Vogue Portugal’s ‘Madness Issue’ exposes the lack of inclusivity within fashion

By Abbie Cooper Davis

Timeless, classic, future-proof? All words associated with the iconic fashion magazine, Vogue. Whether headlines are drawn by Hermès claiming to have monopolised elegance or Rihanna “rewriting the rules”, the covers of Vogue are distinguished for their uniqueness, their distinctiveness, but most recently, their controversy. 

Vogue Portugal, within one of their four July/August 2020 covers, titled ‘The Madness Issue’, depicted a young, naked woman bathing inside a psychiatric hospital, whilst two nurses poured water over her head. After an astounding online backlash from the press and mainstream media, Vogue Portugal removed the cover and said it “deeply apologises”. After the cover was removed, Vogue wrote on Instagram, “on such an important issue such as mental health we cannot be divided.” Some of the vast criticism surrounding this feature suggested that it was a source of trigger for some exposed to it and upheld an incorrect and damaging depiction of psychiatric treatment.

For decades, there has been a deficiency of diversity and inclusivity on magazine covers, the runway and the wider industry of fashion. A report published early in 2019, by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CDFA) acknowledged the sincere lack of diversity within the industry. This report considered the workforce at all levels, though emphasised that diversity and inclusivity are becoming increasingly normalised. 

Amidst the online backlash, Vogue Portugal initially refused to remove the cover, insisting on Twitter that it navigated “the historical context of mental health and is designed to reflect real life and authentic stories.” Upon release of the cover, the model featured in the bathtub, Simona Kirchnerova, stated on Instagram that it was a “career highlight,” for it had been her first feature in Vogue, and the nurses pouring water over her are her mother and grandmother.

Vogue’s insensitive portrayal of mental illness and its therapies should not be considered in isolation. This raises wider questions about fashion, and whether its trends remain rooted in archaic ideas. Through glamorising female vulnerability, the feature on ‘Madness’ explicitly clouds the magazine’s attempt to bring awareness to mental health. The removal of the woman’s ability to wash herself fosters damaging connotations of mental health, illustrating the infantilsation of those struggling with mental illness. Does this cover serve as an emblem which exposes the distasteful representations of mental health, body image and well-being within the wider fashion industry?

The cover came at a contentious and sensitive time, amidst the Covid 19 pandemic, when issues surrounding mental health, vulnerability and isolation are increasingly prevalent within society.

Erica Lovett, Manager of Inclusion and Community at Condé Nast, the company who own Vogue, said: “The current state of inclusion and diversity in fashion is focused on visibility. It’s the diversity of race and ethnicity that we see on the runways, magazines, and in overall brand coverage. This year alone [2018], there has been an explosion of diversity on magazine covers, with a record number of American fashion magazines featuring non-white cover stars on their September issues.”

Inclusivity, diversity and ultimately, representation of these issues within iconic publications, such as Vogue, are paramount to the increasing standardisation of inclusivity within society. Though Vogue’s feature on mental illness reaped the adverse reaction it had presumedly intended to, the backlash it received should be interpreted as society’s refusal to accept archaic and unsavoury representations of mental well-being; a beacon of hope that times are changing, even if the road ahead is a little longer for fashion. 

Image: iazbd via Unsplash

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