Elle Germany‘s effort at celebrating the “resurgence” of Black models fell flat with critics accusing the fashion magazine of tokenizing Blackness.
For its November 2019 issue, the publication boldly declared “Black is back” — a controversial cover line it’s now apologizing for after intense backlash from readers, fashion models, industry vets and the like.
“In our current issue, we approach the color black from different angles,” Elle Germany editor-in-chief Sabine Nedelchev said in a statement posted online. “One of our focuses was to feature strong Black women who work as fashion models. In doing so, we were guilty of several errors [for] which we sincerely apologize.
The magazine acknowledged it was “wrong to use the cover line ‘Back to black,’ — which could be misconstrued to mean that Black individuals are some sort of fashion trend. This obviously was not our intention and we regret not being more sensitive to the possible misinterpretations.”
But the redress didn’t stop there.
The magazine also faced criticism after proving its inability to tell two Black models — Janay Furman and Naomi Chin Wing — apart from each other.
“Misidentifying the model Naomi Chin Wing as Janaye Furman is a further error for which we apologize,” the publication added. “We’re aware of how problematic this is. This has definitely been a learning experience for us and, again, we deeply regret any harm or hurt we have unwittingly caused.”
Instagram fashion blog Diet Prada was the first to point out the flaws in Elle’s black-themed issue, calling it “ironic,” considering the magazine has “been complicit in denying visibility to black models until relatively recently.”
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Not a good look, @ellegermany . For their November 2019 issue, the presumably white-led publication declares that “black is back”. Ironic when they, along with much of the fashion industry, have been complicit in denying visibility to black models until relatively recently. Oh, and apparently they can’t actually tell models apart. In the bottom middle, a picture of @naomichinwing is used in place of @iam_janaye . And @joansmalls has been around for a minute/hasn’t gone anywhere lmao. The issue, titled “Back to Black”, also features a white model on the cover. You can’t make this stuff up! • #elle #ellemagazine #ellegermany #naomichinwing #janayefurman #models #blackmodels #modelsofcolor #runway #fashionweek #fashionmonth #pfw #nyfw #mfw #lfw #paris #london #milan #nyc #wtf #fail #magazine #print #editorial #editor #editorinchief #media #sabinenedelchev #dietprada
“The issue, titled ‘Back to Black,’ also features a white model on the cover,” they opined. “You can’t make this stuff up!”
Equally outraged readers sounded off in the comments section of the post, slamming Elle for its tone deafness.
“SO SICKENING!!! I’m over it honestly 😡” South Sudanese-Australian model Adut Akech wrote.
“This is the type of predictable shit that happens when they try to tell you RaCiSm dOeSn’T eXiST,” another chimed in.
German fashion blogger Suzie Grime echoed the sentiment, writing “This insensitive shit is what happens when there aren’t enough black people working at a magazine …”
“Black is back? When did it leave?” one critic asked.
The controversy even drew a response from legendary Black supermodel Naomi Campbell, who denounced racial diversity as a “trend” and has spoken out against racism in the fashion and modeling industries. In a lengthy social post, Campbell called the incident “sad” and volunteered herself, along with veteran model Iman and model-turned-activist Bethann Hardison, to help the magazine with its diversity guidelines.
“Your mistake it is highly insulting in every way,” she wrote. “You go further to say that BACK TO BLACK, even if you meant the fashion it’s misleading on your headline and Type !! ! I’ve said countless of times we are not a TREND. We are here to STAY. It’s ok to celebrate models of color but please do it in an ELEGANT and RESPECTFUL way.”
Using very few words, Furman also responded by uploading a video of herself silently sipping a cup of tea.
“☕️🐸 #blackisback,” she captioned it.