Why “Vogue Africa” Is a Bad Idea
The only living supermodel in the world — Naomi Campbell is currently storming the runways in Lagos, Nigeria for Arise Fashion Week — and her presence there is being documented by pretty much every portal that’s dedicated to “breaking news” in the realm of style and beauty.
Campbell isn’t just a supermodel — the British beauty is also the ambassador of “Black beauty” in all its complexity and simplicity — when you consider that no other model who shares her physical attributes has gained seamless entry into a world that has perfected the art of distributing the only aesthetic that will ever apply.
As a Nigerian-American who grew up in Lagos — I was very much aware of how beauty was perceived through the messaging of TV ads and the highly-popular beauty pageants. It was clear that only the light-skinned girls were allowed to wear the crown with the words” Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria” or douse the pages with flashy smiles and the “smooth as silk” skin tone — thanks to lather of Joy soap or the creamy Venus de Milo.
Of course it’s appalling to grow up in Africa and be subjected to the treatment of not being “good enough” simply because of how disturbingly ethnic you appear to be. But our colonial masters taught us well — and left the lingering legacy of self-hate — that still overrules any other emotion that could possibly kill the addiction of damaging our gorgeous complexion — with the medication European-based companies provide in abundance.
Cosmetic giants like L’Oreal, Lancôme, Estee Lauder, Shiseido, and many others in the elite squad — have spent a lifetime dictating what’s beautiful and what’s not. Based on historical references — it’s safe to say that anything that deviates from the global appeal — that usually encompasses features that are collected into templates that don’t evoke “Africanness” in its full glory — is rarely showcased with pride.
Looking “African” is a problem that even Africans can’t adequately solve and so some of us bear the burden with grace and dignity while others settle for the ammunition of creams and pills — that colonizers prepare as a token of goodwill or perhaps as a way to provide assistance for the unholy mess they made when Christianity was wielded as a weapon for their own gain.
We can look to Iman as the African model who made it big — but we can’t deny that her symmetrical profile and sharp nose had everything to do with her meteoric rise. Sudanese models like Alek Wek basically serve as fixtures that give permission for gawkers to exalt their fetishes with deep Black skin and primal features — while designers are feted for daring to go where very few of their counterparts would willingly venture.
Nigerian model — Oluchi Oweagba — who was discovered at the age of seventeen when she won the “Face of Africa” back in 1998 — has enjoyed an enviable career both at home and abroad — but we haven’t see much of her in the last five years
My favorite model of all time is American-born Ugandan — Kiara Kabukuru — and that is mainly because she was flying high at a time when I needed her the most. She’s just a couple of years younger than me — and her insertion in major fashion magazines and in Cover Girl ads was a boost to my ego — as an African girl in her twenties — during the nineties — an era that made me feel tragically invisible.
So — yeah — it’s not like African models were virtually extinct. It’s just that there were only a handful that we were allowed to shine — and those opportunities came with the disclaimer that that proved how their admittance was contingent on the ever-changing climate — that is never able to handle too much diversity all at once.
White will always be in style.
It’s the reason why notable editors take their cue from the advertisers that fill their pages with ad campaigns — featuring famous faces that are definitely not African. The cover girls have to consistently display the acceptable form of currency — since being explorative could cost way more than illustrious publications are willing to risk.
But — Africa has been trending for a couple of years now and with the power and might of the movie of the year — Black Panther — there’s every indication that the trending cycle has been extended.
For someone who didn’t enjoy the privilege of ‘being African”— specifically Nigerian — during my college years — due to Americans asking for a description of the city I grew up in with a level of ignorance that was bitingly offensive — I can’t help retaining a sense of reservation at the heightened interest surrounding the Diaspora.
All of it can be attributed to the wonders of social media and how it validates the very things we couldn’t be bothered a decade ago.
Consider that back in 2009 — Arise magazine was touted as the continent’s version of Vogue — and I still remember hunting for the very first issue — which I found at one of the famed newsstands in Soho. It was the “Africa Issue” — and I was beyond excited to witness the beginning of something that was aimed at elevating the indispensable gems of a continent that had spent far too long in forced isolation.
While Arise magazine was working hard to restructure the global narrative of beauty and fashion — another low key publication — Pop’Africana — was rapidly developing a cult following as an underground instigator — being helmed by Oroma Elewa — a style maven of Nigerian descent — who wanted to use her outlet to demonstrate the various facets of creative expression emanating from Africa and beyond:
“Basically, it’s serving as a reference point for understanding the types of ideas and innovations that are happening within fashion in Africa. It is also documenting and showcasing contemporary African experiences and interests globally.”
Elewa’s “It girl” status helped to garner her awesome exposure — as she was splashed on the pages of Vogue and other similar staples — but even that wasn’t enough to prevent Pop’Africana from dying a slow and brutal death. Despite her pleas for assistance — as she publicly documented her struggle to keep her creative genius alive — her timing was clearly all wrong.
Africa wasn’t the shit back in 2010 or even 2012.
That was the year that Arise magazine staged it’s final attempt to prominently showcase African designers during New York Fashion Week — and it was billed as — Arise Magazine Presents: African Icons. I attended the event because I was in contact with the White British editor as well as her deputy — and they both promised to score me an invite.
Trendy Fashion Report: Arise Magazine's "African Icons" Extravaganza - MyTrendyBuzz
The thunderous roar of the African Icons that dominated the venue at the Lincoln Center in New York City enhanced Day 1…
It was an amazing experience to watch designers from the Diaspora celebrate their immense talent in such a triumphant way — and I was slightly irritated that the staging of the show was purposely curtailed to a building across from the “main action”— that sheltered the “the more respectable designers” — who only reached those heights by ripping off the lookbooks of their less fortunate but more prolific counterparts.
Months after attending the Arise Fashion Show — I noticed that Arise magazine was weirdly missing in action. By 2013 — it was obvious that despite the absence of an official confirmation — the magazine that was supposed to be Africa’s “fuck you” to Vogue was now fucked for life. It had only lasted as long as the rigid climate would allow — since the “trends of Africa” hadn’t yet caught on to the virus of viability.
But — it seems like a resurrection is in the works — and while Naomi Campbell enjoys herself in my hometown — I can’t help being both captivated and bitter by the grand reception that has greeted her arrival.
She’s immersed in the newfound love for Africa — and gladly reaping the benefits of this overflowing goldmine by being the star attraction of Arise Fashion Week — an honor that should’ve gone to Oluchi Oweagba — since she’s of Nigerian descent and could’ve used a glitzy homecoming as payment for her global success.
Campbell will always be the standard default when it comes to these types of things and that’s okay. But her latest comment about the dire need for a “Vogue Africa” is not okay or even reasonable.
“There should be a Vogue Africa.” “We just had Vogue Arabia — it is the next progression. It has to be.” “Africa has never had the opportunity to be out there and their fabrics and their materials and their designs be accepted on the global platform… it shouldn’t be that way.”
Campbell is absolutely right when she points out that “it shouldn’t be that way” and that’s exactly why the idea of a “Vogue Africa” is out of the question.
The ability to love and respect “all-things Africa” has always been based on whether or not it vibes well with the global customs.
When Black Panther had it’s highly-anticipated premiere — the stars of the film that’s set in the fictional African country of Wakanda — weren’t outfitted in ensembles by designers of African descent. The soundtrack to the movie only featured a couple of artists from the Diaspora — because only big name musicians guarantee profits.
Even having a White editor couldn’t preserve the lifespan of Arise magazine. And an incredibly talented Nigerian muse with a skilled and worldly palette tried in vain to feed the masses what they didn’t know they were missing — until now.
So — now Africa is in vogue — but the truth is that we don’t need Vogue to keep us in vogue. We need ourselves and the ammunition we had all along — but unfortunately didn’t have the authority to unleash back when we weren’t trendy enough.
The budding franchise of Vogue doesn’t deserve the blessing of adding Africa to its library of hits because if it still hasn’t happened in 2018 — that’s proof that it shouldn’t ever be commissioned— especially when the response to such a possibility sounds like this:
“We have considered Africa as a possible market for Vogue. It is something that we are looking at, but we don’t want to rush or make any quick decisions.”
That’s basically a polite way of declining something that was never a consideration to begin with and quite frankly it needs to stay that way.
It’s time to claim our rightful place as innovators instead of waiting to be knighted by White institutions that have punished us enough with their gross negligence — and steadfast refusal to deem us worthy competitors in an industry they’ve dominated with tons of inspiration from our richly defined culture.
We should revive Arise magazine — and dispense with the false security of White editors who will most likely repeat the urge to run it into the ground. We need to soak our resources into brilliant minds who are qualified and capable of telling our stories — by curating our mission with the love and dedication — that will propel our branding past the corridors of “trends” and into the fabric of global recognition and religion.