Words: Tshiamo Seape
Vogue Magazine, the bastion of taste, the height of style and the encyclopedia of world fashion has, for more than 100 years, served as the beacon of inspiration for the universe of fashion. The constellation of stars within music, fashion and the arts that have graced thousands of issues across dozens of territories are some of the most important figures of contemporary popular culture. And as culture evolves and spreads, so too has the magazine matched this evolution. With the fashion world becoming more fragmented and a growing number of readers outside the traditional fashion capitals clamouring to be part of the conversation, Vogue has met the needs of many of these consumers by debuting Middle Eastern and East European editions of the magazine. However, one territory has been left conspicuously behind leaving what should be a glaring void that the publishing icon seems in no hurry to fill. The question remains: Where is Vogue Africa?
We in Africa have known for decades of the creativity and thirst for inclusion on the global stage, but it is much more recently that we have been afforded the opportunity by the rest of the world to showcase our talents on equal footing. For too long the notion of Africa as a backwater, offering nothing more than novel ideas but nothing approaching what the West has determined as the height of fashion, has persisted. Recent years have seen more and more of what makes Africa great making it out of the borders of the continent and onto the world stage. But, in order to really make the case for an African Vogue we need to make the case from every angle and see why we are deserving of our own version of the most important fashion publication on Earth.
What do the insiders say?
It seems quite clear that the individual voices within the broader fashion industry are, at least publicly, for the introduction of an African Vogue into the market. Naomi Campbell told Reuters, “There should be a Vogue Africa…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”. The sentiments follow growing rumours within the industry that the time has come for more inclusion – whether that be more diversity on the covers or in the pages of the magazine. Even within fashion’s inner circles, inroads have been made: British Vogue is now helmed by the Ghanian born- Edward Enninful and earlier this year Virgil Abloh, the Ghanian-American, founder of Off-White became the creative director of Louis Vuitton. With Vogue Arabia’s arrival in 2016, it means that all the worlds territories, save for Africa, are represented by Vogue in some form or another.
What do the numbers say?
Print media has faced a number of challenges as the world becomes increasingly digital in the creation and dissemination of information. The new landscape has seen many publications struggle to hold on to their readership. With specific reference to South Africa and in a landscape that includes Glamour, Marie Claire and Elle, the general trend was towards decline – not promising for the case for yet another magazine. The full story may be more nuanced than sales, especially print sales. A digital version preceding the print publication was the strategy that was employed when launching Vogue Arabia just two years ago.
The economic outlook for the continent is also promising. According to research by Deloitte, seven of the ten fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa and economic growth on the continent is projected to reach 4, 9% – far outpacing the developed world and global averages. A middle class with greater numbers naturally leads to an increased affinity for luxury. While much of the market in the West has become accustomed to what Vogue offers, for many in Africa the lifestyle and all its associations are far more common.
Telling our own stories
The calls for an African edition of the world’s foremost fashion publication are loud and validated by the economic and cultural reasons, but those very same reasons may be the biggest reason that Africans should not endeavour to have Vogue on the continent. We continue to export our culture into the world in greater volume than ever before – even beyond fashion. The fervour with which international audiences took to the world of Wakanda or, though troubling, the frequency with which major western fashion concerns are accused of appropriating previously maligned Afrocentrism, has become more prevalent.
Perhaps the conversation needs to be shifted towards creating a landscape where Vogue is no longer a catalyst for validation of African creativity and only when seen through a Eurocentric lens. Of course, we are not the first to espouse this viewpoint. Writing for the Times Live columnist, Pearl Boshomane states “We’re trying to do things on our own terms, disrupt the narrative, own our narrative and tell our own stories – our way. It goes against this spirit of decolonisation that we’ve been pushing these past few years if we do backflips because there might be a Vogue Africa.” Pearl’s point rings true on so many levels and therefore bears a lot of attention. If the goal is to be taken seriously and showcase what makes Africa so enchanting and attractive then we have done that. As stated above the thirst for “Africanness” among the rest of the world has never been greater. It is and never has been up to the rest of the world to dictate what our talents are and we would gladly continue on a path of creative excellence were it not for the world’s attention.
The other and perhaps the most glaring deficiency in the argument for Vogue Africa is the notion of a single unifying publication that could accurately portray the extremely diverse continent we call home. The Latin American and Arabian editions of the magazine may not provide as solid a blueprint as one might think. Culturally, ethnically, and geographically, Africa stands far apart from the other regional zones. Save for Brazil, Latin America shares one language, as does Arabia. So much of both those regions is homogenous at a level that is unheard of in Africa. Trying to cater to the most diverse and dispersed region on the planet would undermine the complexity of the region.
Vogue is one of the most recognisable and powerful brands in all of fashion and so has many admirers. It would be, without doubt, an honour to one day (hopefully soon) have an Africa edition of the famed publication – physical or otherwise- and see African talent displayed under the banner of Vogue. But, I think a more admirable and indeed practical dream is to focus our collective energies on giving our existing infrastructures, creatives and publications the attention they need in order for us to produce our own lauded publications free of outside influence. And to grow and transform freely without the hindrance of Western expectations. Only time will tell, and perhaps, the time is now.