For the March issue of American Vogue, the internationally renowned magazine decided to focus on the idea of Diversity, a word that is becoming increasingly important in our current political climate. Following the results of the EU referendum and the 2016 American election, it seems almost impossible to escape the world of politics, with articles about controversial decisions being posted all over the news. For many fashion is a world of escapism; a place where the focus should be on art. However, any readers looking for escapism should probably step away from this issue of Vogue considering in a magazine declaring to be representing diversity, American supermodel Karlie Kloss is styled as a geisha.
Traditionally, Geisha’s are Japanese entertainers, trained vigorously in art forms such as art, music, and dancing, with it being estimated that the first emergence of official Geisha’s occurred in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In an issue where Vogue is supposedly celebrating the diversity of the modern woman, many have called in to question why a white American model is featured in the Japanese influenced ‘Spirited Away’ feature. The editorial featuring Kloss was shot in Japan by Mikael Jansson, with the styling by Phyllis Posnick, and features Kloss posed alongside a Sumo Wrestler and wearing traditionally Japanese dress with black hair.
The shoot received a mixed response on social media, with many describing the feature as being a prominent example of yellow face and cultural appropriation; an issue that has received strong media representation following numerous examples of whitewashing in recent Hollywood blockbusters. There was great outrage surrounding the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the remake of the incredibly successful Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell, Emma Stone playing a Chinese-Hawaiian in Cameron Crowe’s Aloha, and Matt Damon as the lead role in The Great Wall, a film set in Ancient China. Readers of Vogue were also left wondering why the magazine chose to feature Chinese model Liu Wen on their front cover, whilst blatantly appropriating Asian culture a few pages later.
Since the issue was published, Kloss has apologised on social media:
‘These images appropriate a culture that is not my own and I am truly sorry for participating in a shoot that was not culturally sensitive. My goal is, and always will be, to empower and inspire women. I will ensure my future shoots and projects reflect that mission.’
However, this consistent cycle of cultural appropriation followed by an apology calls in to question whether the state of diversity in the media is actually improving. This is not the first time Kloss has apologised publically after being accused of cultural appropriation, a similar occurrence took place in 2012 when the model apologised after wearing a Native American headdress during the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Vogue may have featured plus-size model Ashley Graham on the front cover of this issue, but any celebration of diversity is immediately undercut by the magazine’s appropriation of Japanese culture. The idea of a high fashion magazine dedicating an issue to diversity is one that the world should celebrate, but hopefully soon the fashion world and the media will use this idea in practice, and stop appropriating Asian culture in the name of fashion and art.