celebrate change but don’t whitewash i-D’s past, present and future
Diversity isn't a 'trend' - we've been doing it for 35 years.
In recent weeks there have been a flurry of opinion pieces exploring the who, what and why of seven black women gracing pre-fall and fall magazine covers. From Beyoncé's Vogue smoulder to Amandla Stenberg's Dazed doodled daydreams, Serena Williams' almost-internet-breaking New York Times ownership to Willow Smith's double i-D wink, commentators have been investigating what it all means. Is it a turning point? Is it a gimmick? Was it orchestrated? Will it last?
"I'm proud of my fellow black women getting the covers of the most important month of the year, because this is something that everyone needs to see," writes Morgan Jenkins in the Guardian's feature, Black women on magazine covers in September showcase our greatness. Agreed. It's a moment. For many, it's long overdue and the progress should not just be applauded but encouraged, or better still, demanded to continue throughout every facet of our industry (and society). However, for me, in 2015, it's both disheartening to see race referenced as a trend and linked so blatantly to commerce, especially when my own publication is thrown into the mix to support their arguments. I get it. The greater the volume of examples, the more powerful the argument. Right? No. Not if your argument strikes the very heart that pulses through the publication's pages. Now, I could be deemed naive, biased even but by its very nature i-D has always pushed diversity and in every piece I've read, this has been grossly overlooked.
"But why now?' asks Kristal Brent Zook in the uncomfortably titled follow up Guardian piece, Black female celebrities on magazine covers do sell, but will the fanfare last? "It's been 50 years since Donyale Luna became the first black model to appear on the cover of Harper's Bazaar, prompting advertisers in southern states to pull their business from the publication and angering the magazine's owner William Randolph Hearst. A year later she became the first black woman to grace the cover of Vogue. In the meantime a lot - and little - has changed," she continues. At this point, I'm nodding along but she soon loses me. "Progress has been slow and there was a long period in the 80s and 90s during which almost no black models were featured," she writes, quoting Charles Whitaker, Helen Gurley Brown professor of journalism at Medill school of journalism at Northwestern University. "We hit this moment where suddenly it was decided that black women were not doing well on covers any more and that became the conventional wisdom. It was foolish," Whitaker expands. "This is a business where people sort of follow each other," he said. Not everyone Charles Whitaker. For a feature to use your title to illustrate their argument and then shift the focus in a direction that it doesn't fit, is irksome. Why not call out the titles who are actually guilty rather than whitewash i-D's past, present and future?
"i-D counts more than fashion. Make a statement, originate don't imitate, find your own i-D." It's 35 years since i-D's original fashion editor, Caroline Baker, wrote this call to arms in the very first issue of the magazine and these words still echo throughout its pages. Since those first few staples enclosed its photocopied pages, i-D has stood out and dared to be different. Whilst mainstream media has dithered in silence, independent voices such as ours, have screamed for diversity through their monthly and seasonal celebrations of individuality. "Identity is the individual thumbprint to our DNA," explains Terry Jones, i-D founder, former editor-in-chief and fountain of being. "Humanity is at the core of i-D's editorial ethic - to give space to a range of people with contrasting constructive opinions irrespective of religion, colour, nationality or social background," he adds. It has and always will be, more than one voice, it is ours.
In his i-Con interview for our recent anniversary issue, we asked Terry, what makes a strong cover? His response was decidedly Terry. "I loved making i-D covers that could be emotionally graphic and often irreverent, where the face caught your attention and the words fed the imagination." Lose yourself in the i-D cover archive (treat yourself) for a few moments and all will become clear.
Below Kristal Brent Zook's piece Jason Connor's comment deep in the palace of procrastination that is CIF, mirrors my own misgivings: "This article should have been an in depth study of the history behind the race/ethnicity of cover models. Instead we got this...," With this in mind, let's explore i-D's very own history.
"i-D has continued to showcase diverse talents since The Sweat Is Best Issue (No. 6, 1981) - a mysterious girl named Jones photographed by Thomas Degen," Terry remembers.
Then Sade, photographed by Nick Knight for The All Star Issue (No. 14, 1983) was a month before Madonna's first issue," he adds. "The Sade issue was the first issue I worked on when I arrived at i-D in late 1983," remembers former editor Dylan Jones. "The issue was a turning point for i-D, because not only was it portrait and not landscape, but it was an image of someone who was escaping the London club scene. This was not only Sade's attempt at going for the big time, it was i-D's too," he concludes. We've looked forward ever since, forever redefining identity. Sade was followed by Sherron Waugh (The Money Issue, No. 18, 1984), Jane Khan (The Fun & Games Issue, No. 20, 1984), Carol Thompson (The i-Spy Issue, No. 23, 1985), June Montana (The Conservation Issue, No. 37, 1986) and one Naomi Campbell, her first of many covers. "Robert Erdmann was very supportive of me; he was one of the first top three photographers that would use me in London," Naomi remembers. "I had only been modelling for four months, so it was all really new to me but I worked with Robert a lot and it was such an honour to be on an i-D cover." She continued to appear on i-D's cover almost every year throughout the 90s and up to the Nick Knight shot, 30th Birthday Issue (No. 308). Naomi was followed by Grace Jones (The Pop Issue, No. 46, 1987), Cleopatra Jones (The Adventure Issue, No. 61, 1988), Kathleen (The Secrets Issue, No, 67, 1989), Diana Brown (The Energy Issue, No. 73, 1989), Wilson James (The High Spirits Issue, No. 78, 1990) and Mica Paris' first cover shot by Craig McDean (The Born Again Issue, No. 86, 1990).
"Edward Enninful's contribution as fashion director throughout the 90s continued the momentum," Terry shares over email. As always, he's right, just look. "I will use whoever is right for that story," Edward succinctly shared during a recent CFDA panel discussion on diversity in fashion. "I like to think of characters, I like going beyond the norm. This type of model for this type of story has never worked for me," he added.
Throughout his contributions to our i-D and beyond, Edward has harnessed the power of moving beyond the boundaries set by typecasting. When he was honoured with the Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator at the British Fashion Awards last year, Terry and Tricia commented: "He not only brought his own talent to the magazine, but started working with hundreds of other individual youngsters at the beginning of their careers. His fashion corner in the i-D office was always a mecca for ideas and supermodel diversity became one of his many contributions to the international fashion industry." It's one we strive to continue.
Over the past 35 years, the face of fashion has shape-shifted from clothes-horse to supermodel, from teen waifs to mothers and from silent muses to social media campaigners, and i-D has of course, evolved and devolved, reinventing itself for successive generations but it has, and always will, continue to celebrate all that is fast, furious, fun and fierce about modern identity. We've always seen beyond colour and merely celebrated talent. If that's helped push the industry forward, all the better.
Text Steve Salter