How Vogue is Changing Fashion; and the World

Finn Witham, Editor

In the world of fashion, the September issue of “Vogue” is akin to a holy text. The dense issue marks the transition from the Spring/Summer season to Fall/Winter, making it a North star for where fashion is headed and how it will change in the months and years to come. Yet, even for such a usually transitional piece, this year’s September “Vogue” is truly revolutionary. 

Normally, the cover of the September issue is graced by a rising, influential model, designer, or entrepreneur and is littered with text detailing the new trends and movements in the fashion industry. This year, however, the cover features not one but eight models, all smiling and laughing together as a group in a “Vogue” office. Five of the eight are women of color, transgender model Ariel Nicholson is featured, as are plus-sized models Precious Lee and Yumi Nu. While this display of diversity represents the move towards better representation in fashion, what is particularly striking is that all of these women exude their own individuality and their own persona. Far from being presented as the marionette dolls of a megalith industry, they are shown in their humanity, with their own stories to tell and their own lives to live. 

This new attitude represents the seachange that fashion is experiencing today. In the issue’s feature article, Maya Singer writes that “it’s insufficient to describe the radical makeover of runways and magazines in terms of diversity and inclusion…What stands out about the women on this cover is that they’re not reducible to kind; each is a unique superstar with her own story to tell, of which her beauty is merely a part.” 

Today, with the advent of social media and the broadening perspectives of the world, models can be found in the unlikeliest of places, and who they are matters as much, if not more, than what they look like. At its root, fashion is merely about clothes and creativity, thus, as Singer writes, “the people modeling the clothes must bear some relation to the people who created them–and to the customer.” 

Beyond the cover, the pages of this year’s September “Vogue” are filled with the stories of people, past and present, who emulate this distinctive and revolutionary presence. Photographs of the work of emergent designers across the world blend into a profile of Lamine Kouyaté, whose brand Xuly.Bёt has been an often overlooked mainstay of sustainability and cultural blending in the industry. An article by Marley Marius details the resurgence of Fashion Fair Cosmetics, an early pioneer in inclusive beauty that is returning to the market after near ruin. A particular focus is given to the environment, with Arden Fanning Andrews’ discussion of recycled, circular production in cosmetics and a photo-filled feature detailing the life of American landscape design pioneer Beatrix Farrand. In all of these pieces, “Vogue” presents fashion, design, and beauty as the work of powerful and remarkable individuals, each with their own story to share. 

While the demand for uniqueness, individuality, and authenticity is not new to fashion, the widespread respect for it is. Beyond the changes to who is allowed into the world of high fashion, this has manifested in the upcoming Met Gala. The Gala, which has not been held since 2019 due to Covid-19, is returning on September 13 with the theme “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” . This celebration of American fashion will incorporate voices, designs, and histories that have often been overlooked. The exhibit will also feature quilts and quilted designs in particular, inspired by Jesse Jackson’s 1984 speech at the Democratic National Convention in which he described America as “like a quilt: many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes all woven and held together by a common thread.” This metaphor encompasses the truth that, from clothing to the culture of fashion at-large, the voices of all are required to create something truly inspirational and beautiful. 

For many, this theme and the transformation of the industry may bring fashion closer to home. Oftentimes, high fashion can seem an illusory and foreign world, much like the ivory tower or the corporate boardroom. Yet, for decades, the decisions made by models and designers and magazine editors and beauty moguls have affected the advertisements and trends we see, and, eventually, what we wear every day. If we are to make fashion the expression of creativity and beauty it is meant to be, all of us, especially those who are too often disincluded, must have a seat at the table. The real revolution in fashion, and really in all aspects of 21st century life, is that the voices of people who have been forgotten are rising up and demanding respect. As model Precious Lee told “Vogue”, “good luck telling us to shut up. Why would we?”