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the covers that shook the world

US Vogue just went through with what apparently no one in fashion thought they’d go through with: Anna Wintour put Kim Kardashian on the cover of her holy fashion bible. She may have been backed up by fiancé Kanye West to add some street cred, but make no mistake of it, that kover was all Kim K all the way. Twitter’s fashion corner responded with tweets such as, “Words I thought I’d never say,” “Wait, what?” and, “Is Anna on crack?” The answer is no, Anna is not on crack – if anything she’s smoking the grass of genius. The high priestess of publishing went against the grain and set the agenda. (There you go, Kim. Enjoy highbrow superstardom. It’s yours.) In commemoration, we give you five other magazine covers that shook the world, increased sales and paved the way. i-D has of course politely excluded our own archives from the race since, well, we wouldn’t want to steal the show.

Text Anders Christian Madsen

  • Michaela Bercu. US Vogue. Peter Lindbergh, 1988.

    Anna Wintour says the first US Vogue cover under her strict direction wasn’t as considered as history has made it out to be. “None of these things was true. I had just looked at that picture and sensed the winds of change,” she once wrote. But nonetheless, Wintour’s debut cover featuring a fresh-faced Michaela Bercu in a Christian Lacroix jacket paired with – gasp! – Guess jeans was nothing less of a revolution in the very proper women’s fashion magazine world where denim didn’t belong on a cover and a pose from the model was the least to expect. Styled by Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, the cover went on to signify a new Vogue – Wintour’s Vogue – and changed high fashion publishing forever.

    Michaela Bercu. US Vogue. Peter Lindbergh, 1988.

  • Demi Moore. Vanity Fair. Annie Leibovitz, 1991.

    A modern Mona Lisa, no magazine cover in history has been imitated as much as Demi Moore’s pregnancy cover, which was the first of its kind. Vanity Fair subscribers called the image “grotesque and obscene” and the whole thing resulted in a shock to a Western world system, which eventually would go through its definitive sexual liberation in the early 90s. So if you ever wondered who to thank for the endless re-enactment covers that followed in its wake over the following two decades of people like Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears and countless other visions strutting their expectant stuff, your go-to gal is Annie Leibovitz.

    Demi Moore. Vanity Fair. Annie Leibovitz, 1991.

  • Oprah Winfrey. US Vogue. Steven Meisel, 1998.

    Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it was Oprah Winfrey, thinner than ever. Anna Wintour suggested the additional weight loss of twenty lbs for the shoot (“I said simply that you might feel more comfortable. She was a trouper!” Wintour later commented) and Winfrey went to fat camp in Colorado. But like the rest of the world, the talk show host couldn’t believe her own eyes when she first saw the picture and started crying. “I was having an I-used-to-weigh-237-pounds-and-now-I’m-shooting-the-cover-of-Vogue moment,” she once confessed. The cover marked the height of 90s thinspiration, and these days Winfrey has found a size more friendly to the dish her private chef Art used to make her when she was feeling blue: Patti LaBelle’s Macaroni and Cheese with Five Different Cheeses. Thank God for that.

    Oprah Winfrey. US Vogue. Steven Meisel, 1998.

  • Ellen DeGeneres. TIME. Firooz Zahedi, 1997.

    Say what? The amazing Ellen DeGeneres got her fancy loafers out for the most famous coming-out cover in history, and announced to the world what her character had already gone through on her sitcom at the time, Ellen. Apparently blind as bats, right-wing America never saw it coming and DeGeneres became the victim of conformism worthy of the dark ages, resulting in the destruction of her career. When she re-emerged as a talk show host some five years later, DeGeneres could enjoy the fruits of her labour: her coming out – along with a string of other cultural events in the 90s – created a new, more liberal America where DeGeneres is now a bona fide easy, breezy, beautiful Cover Girl, and a modern icon.

    Ellen DeGeneres. TIME. Firooz Zahedi, 1997.

  • Janet Jackson. Rolling Stone. Patrick Demarchelier, 1993.

    Before a teenage Britney Spears looked like Lolita bait on worldwide magazine covers and before Miley Cyrus posed like a wet naked goth in Vanity Fair, Janet Jackson chose a Rolling Stone cover to announce to the world that she was no one’s little girl. We can only dream what Joe Jackson’s face must have looked like when he saw his daughter topless on America’s biggest music title, only covered by her boyfriend Rene Elizondo’s hands. The world – already dealing with the release of Madonna’s Erotica album – was no less appalled (i.e. secretly completely into it) and the janet album went on to sell over twenty million copies. Of course it wouldn’t by far be Jackson’s naughtiest album or move to date, and at the 2004 Super Bowl Half Time show, she did it again. ‘Miss Jackson’ if ya nasty!

    Janet Jackson. Rolling Stone. Patrick Demarchelier, 1993.