Robin Givhan makes such undeniably good points in her reflection on Vogue’s May 2018 cover – you know, the one starring Amal Clooney – that it is difficult not to reflect on the state of things. Not only does Givhan set the stage about this interesting woman – who, as Nathan Heller so aptly put it in Clooney's Vogue profile, “had already built a notable career as a London barrister in international human rights law, the system through which some of the world’s slipperiest transnational villains, such as ISIS, can be held accountable in court,” before she met George. She delves into what this cover means about fashion media in 2018 and (spoiler!) it means quite a lot.
Before getting down to business, the Washington Post’s thoughtful fashion critic quickly and explicitly gets one thing out of the way. She shuns the often looming assumption that fashion and brain power are in some ways mutual exclusive, stating that Vogue's "mention [of] the brand of Clooney’s sweater and the details of her various ensembles ... are not meant as a snide suggestion that fashion and human rights work cannot comfortably coexist in a single story. They can." Got it?
“Clooney recognizes the power of the fashion spotlight and of the pop-culture gaze,” states Givhan. “If you are willing to settle into it and embrace it, then whenever it illuminates you, it also shines a light on the issues and causes with which you are associated.” She is, of course, spot on.
This makes way for the most striking excerpt (in my opinion), which, reminds the reader that Mrs. Clooney does not need a Vogue cover. Sure, she benefits from "a brush of gloss" provided by such a press-nod but in fact, that role is reversed.
“Vogue, by the way, needs Clooney,” Givhan declares. “Fashion needs her. In this moment, to be relevant, magazines — fashion magazines — need women of substance and of diverse backgrounds who are engaged with the world. Clooney is not a subversive cover choice, but she’s not a blond starlet, a Kardashian or a Beyoncé-Rihanna-Serena either.”
The burning question that is left when we reflect upon the status quo of fashion media and its general penchant for putting forth women that feel, oftentimes, cookie cutter-ish (simply because they fall into a long-standing pattern of arguably tepid fashion magazine covers): Why did it take Vogue so long to turn its attention from Hollywood celebrities, musicians, reality stars, and models (many of which have graced its cover on more than one occasion) to other women that also boast a surplus of substance, albeit in different ways?
This is not to say that Vogue does not look outside of its traditional trajectory when it dips its toes in the pool of politics from time to time, but rarely does it use its cover to highlight truly modern women outside of its most immediate circle of models and celebrities that reflect purported mission of serving as "a cultural barometer for a global audience."
In this way, Vogue's May cover is exciting and so was Vanity Fair's April 2018 cover starring Lena Waithe. Hopefully there are more like this to come. There certainly are plenty of subjects.