Opinion: Could Vogue Africa Work?

Speaking at Arise Fashion Week in Nigeria a few weeks ago, supermodel, Naomi Campbell, made the call for a Vogue Africa and sparked a wide-spread debate about the necessity of such a publication, given the history of the existing brand and it’s complicity in maintaining the racially biased status quo. 

Speaking to Reuters, Campbell said “We just had Vogue Arabia - it is the next progression... Africa has never had the opportunity to be out there and their fabrics and their materials and their designs be accepted on the global platform... it shouldn't be that way."

Vogue originated in America as a weekly newspaper back in 1892 and later became a monthly publication years later. It is now a fashion and lifestyle magazine that covers topics such as fashion, beauty, culture, lifestyle, and runway. Topics that can all be covered from the African perspective… 

It’s first international edition, British Vogue, was launched in 1916 and it has since expanded to include 23 more international editions, among which are Vogue China, Arabia and India. In 126 years of existence, no effort whatsoever has been made to branch out into our market, so why now? 

With over 100 years in the business, the brand is highly respected in fashion and pop culture circles as one of the most forward thinking publications with regards to fashion and global trends but how could such a forward-thinking publication overlook the entire African continent and what it has to offer for so long?

Yes, there has been the occasional feature and probably even an issue dedicated to the continent, it’s fashion, culture, models and celebrities but when 23 other countries have versions of Vogue to call their own, why should we (as a continent) be satisfied with mere features? Even the idea of ONE issue dedicated to an ENTIRE continent when countries in Europe and the Americas enjoy their own issues is problematic. 

Granted, the industry is in the process of doing the necessary work to become truly inclusive and diverse but this begs the question; when is it true diversity and when is it merely a PR exercise aimed solely at seeming inclusive? 

A question that many asked after Ghanaian-born, Edward Enninful, was hired as the editor in chief of British Vogue last August. 

The publication came under fire, from various people (Campbell included), for having a team that lacked any diversity whatsoever when they released their staff photo under the tenure of Alexandra Shulman. Interestingly, Campbell has since been appointed as a contributing editor to the publication, which makes her call all the more brave. 

Following said call, Nigerian-born fashion designer Ikire Jones tweeted, "We gotta stop asking folks to let us into their parties when we can throw better ones."

A sentiment that I wholeheartedly agree with.

Writing for Business of Fashion, Founder and Chief Cultivator at Refashion Africa, Leanne Tlhagoane argues “the fact that other international women’s fashion magazines do have a presence on the continent signals that there is not only an appetite, but also a market for upmarket titles.” 

I disagree. 

Yes, the presence of other international titles can be used to make a case for African Vogue but, on the other hand, it prompts us to ask why we feel the need to bring historically American brands into the market to showcase our own industry to/for us? 

Tlhagoane goes on to argue that Vouge should; 

  • allow the eye to travel and showcase pan-Africa’s extraordinary fashion potential, 
  • capture the visual aesthetics of Africa’s vast past in present and future form, and
  • reflect and elevate contemporary and diverse narratives

Are these not all things a publication by us, for us can do? Things that publications such as Bubblegum Club, Afropolitan, Essays of Africa and Schick have already been doing? 

Tlhagoane contacted, president of Condé Nast International (CNI) new markets and editorial director of brand development, Karina Dobrotvorskaya with regards to the idea of a Vogue Africa and all she had to say was, “we’re extremely excited by the possibilities of launching titles globally and beyond what people may perceive as the traditional Condé Nast home territories. Regarding Vogue Africa, it is something that we are looking at, but we don’t want to rush or make any quick decisions. When launching any Vogue, it’s important for us to work with the right team and launch at the right time.”

This is, essentially, a non-answer. 126 years later and they’re worried about rushing? 

This leaves one true and clear answer; to either support the existing publications trying to create content from the perspectives of people who live on and understand the continent or to start brand new publications funded by us to create for us. 

Vogue has made their position on Africa clear and instead of holding on the rosy idea that we can force them to include us, it’s about time we move on and show them how it’s done. 

Main image credit: pinterest.com