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Race as Aesthetic: The Politics of Vision, Visibility, and Visuality in Vogue Italia’s “A Black Issue”

by Brandi Thompson Summers

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This essay highlights the construction of black bodies as valuable in the fashion system as a mark of difference and evidence of diversity. Here, I also render the high fashion industry as a site of conflicting elements concerning the deployment and meaning of the black female body. To do so, I use a combined analysis of activism in the fashion industry, which calls for the representation of black models through the visible inclusion of more black bodies on the runway and in magazines, and a textual/image analysis of the July 2008 issue of Vogue Italia, “A Black Issue.” I argue that representations of the black models in the Vogue Italia Black Issue present the “glamorous” black model’s body as unthreatening, alluring, and integrated into dominant discourses of feminine attractiveness. I draw from the presentation of images in the high fashion industry to highlight instances when blackness is asked to prove a post-race and post-racist reality. In an industry in which models are celebrated for being “blank palettes” for designers and fashion editors to mold into a stunning work of art, I ask, what might black do here? Through the aesthetic transformation of race, the neoliberal dimension of race is being played out in the name of art and taste, making race visible even as it elides racism and locating (racial) difference under the rubric of cultural diversity. Therefore, the presentation of black bodies becomes less about their blackness, and more about their ability to sell a marketable black aesthetic.

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