Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour has broken her silence on the magazine’s February cover featuring Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, which caused controversy when it was prematurely leaked over the weekend.
In the image, shot by photographer Tyler Mitchell, Harris stands in front of pink and green drapery – a nod to the colors of her sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha – wearing her signature low-top Converse sneakers along with a black pantsuit and a white T-shirt. Critics took aim at the lighting and the styling, calling the image “washed out” and asserting that the casual outfit was not appropriate for a historic magazine cover of the first woman and woman of color elected as Vice President of the United States. A source familiar with discussions said Harris’ team believed the cover would feature a different image, which featured her posing in a light blue suit against a gold background (that image was released as a digital cover, and it was notably the only image that Mitchell promoted on social media).
In a statement to The New York Times, Wintour said that there was “no formal agreement” about the cover choice, but emphasized that “it was absolutely not our intention to in any way diminish the importance of the Vice President-elect’s incredible victory.”
According to Wintour, the magazine’s creative team felt that the casual look was the better choice for the current moment, making a connection to the pandemic and tumultuous state of the country. She did not comment on the lighting of the image.
“When the two images arrived at Vogue, all of us felt very, very strongly that the less formal portrait of the Vice President-elect really reflected the moment that we were living in,” she said in the statement. “We are in the midst…of the most appalling pandemic that is taking lives by the minute, and we felt to reflect this tragic moment in global history, a much less formal picture, something that was very, very accessible, and approachable, and really reflected the hallmark of the Biden-Harris campaign…”
Wintour is not the only one defending the cover choice. André Leon Talley, the former editor-at-large of American Vogue, voiced his opinion in an Instagram post on Tuesday.
“(Harris’) work uniform with her ubiquitous Converse sneakers is aspirational. I predict its going to set a trend for all young women all over the world, are going to dress like Kamala Harris,” he wrote. “Knitting controversy is utterly ridiculous.”
Wintour’s statement was read by Kara Swisher, host of podcast “Sway,” to prelude an interview she had done about the cover days before it was leaked. In the interview that followed, Wintour said that Harris chose her own outfit for the cover image, explaining that she has “a very assured sense of style.” She was upbeat about the forthcoming cover, describing it as “joyful and optimistic.”
“I cannot imagine that there’s anyone that really is going to find this cover anything but that, and positive,” she said. “(It’s) an image of a woman in control of her life who’s going to bring us…the leadership, that we so need. And to me, it’s just a very important, but positive, statement about women, and women in power.”