Anna Wintour defends Vogue's controversial Kamala Harris cover

Suzy Byrne
·Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
·4 min read

Anna Wintour is speaking out about the controversy over Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s Vogue cover, which has even seen Harris’s team expressing criticism.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris appears on the February cover of Vogue. (Photo: Tyler Mitchell/Vogue)
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris appears on the February cover of Vogue. (Photo: Tyler Mitchell/Vogue)

“Obviously we have heard and understood the reaction to the print cover and I just want to reiterate that it was absolutely not our intention to, in any way, diminish the importance of the vice president-elect’s incredible victory,” the magazine’s editor-in-chief told Kara Swisher, host of the New York Times “Sway” podcast, on Tuesday.

It was a followup to Wintour’s exclusive interview with “Sway,” recorded pre-controversy, in which she called Harris’s look “welcoming,” “charming” and “relaxed.” However, there was online criticism from people saying not only did Harris’s skin color appear lightened or washed out, it was too casual — as she stood in her signature Converse sneakers in front of pink and green drapes (the colors of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the sorority she first became a member of while attending Howard University) — and didn’t honor the occasion of her becoming first Black female vice president.

Wintour also told Swisher she was putting Harris on the cover because the Jan. 20 inauguration making it official is “a historic moment for women of color, for America” and the magazine wanted to mark “such a moment of celebration and joy.”

Wintour went on to say for her, her favorite part of Harris’s look for the shoot “is that she’s wearing sneakers” with her black Donald Deal pantsuit. She said the outfit belonged to Harris, and that photographer Tyler Mitchell, who also shot Beyoncé and, more recently, Harry Styles for the mag, suggested she wear it. Wintour added that Vogue was “very open” to putting her in something else.

“I mean, I think that she has a very assured sense of style. I think, if you look at any images of her during the campaign season, she has a very strong sense of self and what she wants to wear,” Wintour said. “So she was very clear on what she wanted to wear. And on the inside picture, she has a super chic blue pantsuit. And I think it’s very much in character. And I think the fact that the cover itself is so charming and so relaxed — and for me, so surprising and so real — and as I listen to the president-elect and the vice president-elect talk about empathy, and unity, and bringing people together, to me, this cover symbolizes that. I feel it’s a very welcoming image.”

Swisher asked Wintour if she thought there would be controversy around the image, though not over what Harris wore, but because outgoing President Trump complained that Melania wasn’t on the cover during his term.

“Well, President Trump is no longer relevant,” Wintour replied. “And I think that what’s amazing about the February cover, to me, is that it is just so joyful and optimistic. And I cannot imagine that there’s anyone that really is going to find this cover anything but that, and positive, and an image of a woman in control of her life who’s going to bring us where the President-elect, the leadership, that we so need. And to me, it’s just a very important, but positive, statement about women, and women in power.”

Harris’s own team told the Associated Press that the cover of Joe Biden’s VP wasn’t what had been mutually agreed upon. An unnamed source said Harris was supposed to wear the powder-blue Michael Kors power suit for the cover. That photo — for which she posed with her arms crossed and a flag pin on her lapel — appears within the article, not as the cover. Harris’s team reportedly found out about the cover switch on Saturday night when the image leaked was first leaked. The VP-elect has not publicly spoken about the cover.

However, Swisher reported that “there was not a written formal agreement in place,” between the magazine and Harris. It did note that Harris’s team expected the blue suit because it was more “stately, “serious” and “one that is clearly more fitting for a vice president.” And that Vogue is considering using the more formal portrait in a second-print edition.

Vogue’s official statement has been, “The team at Vogue loved the images Tyler Mitchell shot and felt the more informal image captured Vice President-elect Harris’s authentic, approachable nature — which we feel is one of the hallmarks of the Biden/Harris administration,” per Condé Nast corporate PR Remi Berger. “To respond to the seriousness of this moment in history, and the role she has to play leading our country forward, we’re celebrating both images of her as covers digitally.”

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