As Vogue India prepared to release its “May 2017 Collector’s Edition,” the magazine hyped the special issue on social media.
“Prepare to be blown away,” its main Twitter account posted last week, boasting that Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino would be guest editing the issue.
And the cover girl? None other than Kendall Jenner, a teaser photo revealed.
The ensuing reaction probably was not what the magazine had been hoping for.
“Disgustingly inappropriate,” one person tweeted in response. “Were ALL the Indian women unavailable??”
“There are tons of actual Indian models to choose from yet you chose a Kardashian/Jenner,” another replied in dismay, before rattling off the first names of several famous Indian celebrities. “Were Deepika, Priyanka, Kareena, Aishwarya and many other Indian women unavailable?”
Kicking off our 10th anniversary celebrations: @mariotestino guest edits the May issue starring supermodel @KendallJenner shot in India #MarioTestinoXVogueIndia Photographed by: @mariotestino. Styled by: #Sarajanehoare Hair by: @hairbychristiaan. Make-up: @thevalgarland. Kendall’s agency: The Society. Set design: @tomotattle. Location: Hotel Samode Palace, Jaipur. Thanks: Samode Bagh. Production: @MarioTestinoPlus. Local production: #mithikasinghagaekwad and @yogigaekwad. Photo assistants: Karan Takulia and Vijit Gupta. Videographer's assistant: Vishal Jain. Set assistant: Divyaratna Singh
Similar comments followed across the magazine’s social-media channels, accusing Vogue India of a missed opportunity (at best) or “whitewashing” (at worst), and also taking Jenner to task for appropriating another culture for personal gain.
The disappointment and criticism was amplified by the fact that the magazine had been launched a decade ago in part to celebrate Indian fashion, beauty, style and trends.
“The Indian woman has begun identifying her style, one that doesn’t simply ape the West, or stick to traditional Indian wear,” Vogue India managing editor Priya Tanna told Forbes in 2007. “We want to monitor that change.”
Ten years later, Tanna was being accused on her own Instagram page of deleting negative comments about the Jenner cover.
“it’s not personal. your professional judgement is what all of us are upset about,” an Instagram user named “312ash” wrote. “Yup, you do need to sell a magazine. so many celebrated Indians around. you had to go get Kendall?”
Vogue India, I'm so sorry that you gave into the Eurocentric standards of beauty when gorgeous women like these exist in your country pic.twitter.com/lZK8vLSECf
— sai sailaja seshadri (@Saisailu97) May 3, 2017
Indian models VS what Vogue India chooses pic.twitter.com/bCkkNxfJeK
— shweta (@wwahaIfbun) May 3, 2017
Amid the backlash, the Vogue India website published “a few clarifications” about its cover on Friday. Though the May issue of the magazine had been promoted as the “10th Anniversary Collector’s Edition” (a designation that also appeared in gold lettering on the Jenner cover), editors appeared to walk that back online, claiming it was “not the anniversary issue.”
The “actual 10th anniversary” would be October 2017, according to the follow-up post. Furthermore, the magazine noted that, Vogue India has had only 12 international covers over the last decade, including the May 2017 issue.
“Therefore, statistically, 90 per cent of our covers are Indian!” the magazine stated, implying that Jenner was the only non-Indian model to appear on an international Vogue India cover. “And we are proud of that.”
The post ended with a smiling emoji and a slide show of past Vogue India covers and spreads.
“India has given the world so many beautiful faces to admire,” the magazine stated. “After all, we are Vogue, an international brand, and we want to give the love back by featuring some of the best international celebrities on our covers. Occasionally!”
The inside of the May 2017 issue does feature some Indian models and celebrities, including Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput and actress Katrina Kaif.
— Sushant Singh Rajput (@itsSSR) May 3, 2017
For Jenner, the backlash capped off a month-long period in which her choices have not been well received, to say the least.
In early April, the 21-year-old American model debuted in her first Pepsi commercial — one that was widely panned as tone-deaf. Within a day of its release, the ad campaign came to a grinding halt amid accusations that the company — and Jenner — had appropriated serious political and social-justice movements to sell soda. Pepsi publicly apologized and said it had “missed the mark,” but not before it had been put through the Internet meme-ringer.
Later that month, Jenner was forced into the spotlight again, after the Fyre Festival — a “luxury” music festival she had promoted on her Instagram — imploded in epic fashion after ticket-buyers arrived in the Bahamas to find chaos, disaster-relief tents, subpar food and nary an actual concert. Organizers of the Fyre Festival have since been hit with lawsuits.
Representatives for Jenner did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Saturday.