The Biggest Scandals To Hit Vogue

Few magazines are as influential as Vogue. The fashion publication, which was first published in 1892 and is owned by Conde Nast, has a high readership, and gracing its cover has long been an honor for singers, actors, and models alike. The magazine has international editions in several other countries, and it's one of the most popular magazines in the United States.

With this stature comes great responsibility. Especially in recent years, readers have expected Vogue to responsibly and sensitively cover stories in culture and to use its position as an arbiter of taste to promote racial justice, gender equality, and sartorial sustainability, among other issues.

Vogue, of course, has its own agenda, and in an effort to serve its own purpose, as well as meet those of the public, has at times failed. Whether by featuring a questionable subject on its cover or getting caught up in the personal life of its editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, the fashion magazine has found itself at the center of drama several times since it's been in circulation. Let's take a look at some of Vogue's biggest scandals.

Vogue featured Ukraine's First Lady

In February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. This affected the world at large in innumerable ways, and it also made somewhat of an international celebrity out of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Many people across the world were taken with his approach to the war, many heralding him as brave in the face of danger (via People).

Later that year, President Zelenskyy's wife, the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, was featured on the cover of Vogue. The photo was taken by photographer Annie Lebovitz, and Zelenska, along with her translator, sat down for an interview. The cover quickly drew criticism from people across the world as many critics thought it was a waste of time for the First Lady to be on the cover of a fashion magazine when her country is at war.

One such critic took to Twitter to express distaste, saying, "While Ukraine is going through hell, Vogue is doing a photoshoot for the President & his wife," adding a displeased emoji. Zelenska, however, defended her choice to pose for the magazine. She told the BBC in an interview, "I'm using every opportunity to speak about Ukraine ... Everyone is fighting on a front line and it's work and I have to do that work."

Anna Wintour apologized to Black employees

Vogue's editor-in-chief Anna Wintour has been at the helm of the publication since 1988. She is known in pop culture for her very specific style choices, namely her iconic bob and oversized sunglasses, but she's equally known for being a tough boss and has earned herself the nickname Nuclear Wintour.

As her career has transpired, Wintour has also gained the reputation of being discriminatory towards certain groups of people, and in 2020, these longtime criticisms came to a head. In June 2020, editor of Bon Appétit, a magazine owned by Conde Nast of which Wintour is the Global Chief Content Officer, resigned after a photo of him, which many deemed racist, resurfaced. This coupled with other racial issues within the company and the United States as a whole, such as George Floyd's death, prompted Wintour to release an apology.

In an email sent out to all Condé Nast employees, Wintour said, "I want to say plainly that I know Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators. We have made mistakes too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes," as reported by Page Six.

The apology was not met with enthusiasm as many deemed it too little too late. Later that year, the September issue featured two separate covers, both depicting Black women, in an apparent attempt to make amends for the earlier controversy.

Kamala Harris was on the cover

In 2020, Kamala Harris became the first woman to be elected Vice President of the United States. Although Vogue is most known for reporting on fashion, it's also been known to take a stance on politics, and it fancies itself as a champion of feminism. Given this, it chomped at the bit to feature the United States's first female Vice President-elect on its cover. And because it had nothing to do with politics, the cover was, of course, automatically polarizing.

The Vogue cover was dragged for a variety of reasons. Some did not like the way the cover made Harris appear, with some critics saying her pose and facial expression were forced and awkward. Harris's wardrobe choice was criticized, too, and many people thought that she looked whitewashed. "I thought it was fake — that's how bad it is," one Twitter user said.

Another person reportedly unhappy with the cover? Vice President Harris. The cover reportedly created tension between her and President Joe Biden, and sources close to the team said, "Harris was wounded. She felt belittled by the magazine, asking aides: Would Vogue depict another world leader this way?" (via Politico).

Vogue featured tobacco ads

Tobacco, particularly cigarettes, has long been a staple in the fashion world. From models smoking both in ads and in their personal lives to Carrie Bradshaw almost constantly lighting up in "Sex and the City," cigarettes in fashion are as ubiquitous as clouds in the sky. It should come as no surprise that there are still cigarette ads in fashion magazines, but in 2007, when certain Camel No. 9 ads hit the Vogue pages, it sparked widespread backlash from seemingly everyone, including representatives for health associations and readers alike.

One such critic vilified the fashion outlet by saying, "If you draw income from the advertisement of tobacco, you are as guilty as big tobacco companies in selling the health and future of so many of our youth in order to pad your bank accounts," declared a reporter for AP. Vogue's response was very matter-of-fact. The magazine's spokeswoman Maurie Perl said, "Vogue does carry tobacco advertising. Beyond that we have no further comment."

Vogue was not the only magazine that was caught up in this controversy, though. As reported by NPR, Glamour and Cosmopoliton were guilty of printing the Camel No. 9 marketing campaign, as well.

Anna Wintour fought with Andre Leon Talley

Anna Wintour has created quite the reputation for herself as editor-in-chief. Some have pegged her as tough to work for, while others report that she's quite pleasant. One person might have been able to cite evidence for both camps. André Leon Talley, Vogue's former editor at large, was a friend and colleague of Wintour's for many years, the two falling in and out with each other at many times over the course of their personal and professional relationship.

In his 2018 memoir, "The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir," Talley wrote about his relationship with Wintour in detail, mentioning how hurt he was by her treatment of him. "I have huge emotional and psychological scars from my relationship with this towering an influential woman ... Simple human kindness. No, she is not capable," he said. According to Daily Beast, he added that he hoped she'd apologize to him one day and said, "Not a day goes by when I do not think of Anna Wintour."

It's reported that Wintour did apologize to Talley, but if such reports are untrue, she won't again have the chance as he died in January 2022. Wintour did, however, attend Talley's funeral. As reported by Page Six, the editor-in-chief of Vogue spoke about their friendship and was quite emotional. The public was critical of Wintour amidst news of Talley's death. As one Twitter user declared, "To say that she turned her back at a critical point in his life would underscore the struggles this man suffered over the pass few years."

LeBron James was on the cover

In 2008, LeBron James and Heidi Klum posed for the cover of Vogue. The basketballer was featured sporting an intimidating facial expression while holding the model, and the cover became controversial when critics claimed that it was upholding racial stereotypes by featuring James, a black man, holding in Klum, a white woman, in a way that mimicked King Kong. "It conjures up this idea of a dangerous black man," one critic said, as reported by USA Today.

Others said that the polarizing cover was an indication of the larger culture at play in Vogue, and that those who are making the final creative decisions are not people of color, and therefore photos such as this are sent to print. Some, including James, were not upset by the cover at all. As the Laker said to, "Everything my name is on is going to be criticized in a good way or bad way. Who cares what anyone says?"

James has apparently kept a good relationship with Vogue. Almost ten years later, he and his wife Savannah were photographed and interviewed for the publication. The feature highlighted the couple's efforts to improve their hometown of Akron, Ohio.

Vogue featured Syria's First Lady

The March 2011 issue of Vogue featured Asma al-Assad, the wife of Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, on its cover. The feature came at a time when Syria was entrenched in political turmoil and was highly rebuked by citizens of several sovereign nations for violating the basic human rights of its people. The month after al-Assad's cover debuted, Syria broke into civil war.

Prior to the onset of the war, Human Rights Watch was critical of the Syrian government's treatment of its people. Due to this, al-Assad's feature, which referred to her as "glamorous, young, and very chic — the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies," was met with intense criticism, and the following year, the article's author publicly denounced her actions saying, "I didn't know I was going to meet a murderer," per Independent.

Though the writer regretted her reporting, the magazine initially defended its choice. As former Vogue editor Chris Knutsen told The Atlantic, "We felt that a personal interview with Syria's first lady would hold strong interest for our readers. We thought we could open up that very closed world a very little bit." However, just a few months later, Vogue deleted the feature from its website.

Kendall Jenner was accused of cultural appropriation

In 2018, reality star Kendall Jenner was featured in Vogue. The model was criticized for purported cultural appropriation as her pictorial featured her sporting what some considered to be an Afrocentric hairdo next to a Black model wearing straight hair. "For years we have been penalized about our looks and especially our hair, It is a slap in the face when non-Blacks try to imitate our look," one critic commented on Instagram.

The magazine took to E! News to explain its intention behind the photo. "The image is meant to be an update of the romantic Edwardian/Gibson Girl hair which suits the period feel of the Brock Collection, and also the big hair of the '60s and the early '70s, that puffed-out, teased-out look of those eras," Vogue said. "We apologize if it came across differently than intended, and we certainly did not mean to offend anyone by it."

Some weren't so upset by the image, though. Another commenter said, "I stand against appropriation in all forms, but this isn't even an afro — it's curly hair teased out in a 1970s style." Jenner has since been in the magazine on a regular basis either as a model for an ad campaign or part of a story. The model also often films content for Vogue's YouTube channel.

The Devil Wears Prada was published

In 2003 Lauren Weisberger's novel "The Devil Wears Prada" was published. The book follows Andy Sachs, a hopeful journalist, who takes a job at a fashion magazine as the assistant to the editor-in-chief to gain experience, and hopefully open doors for her career. Weisberger herself worked at Vogue as editor-in-chief Anna Wintour's assistant, and though she's never confirmed it to be based on her time working for the publication, many people have drawn parallels between Wintour and the character Miranda Priestly.

A few years later, the book was adapted to film with Anne Hathaway playing Andy Sachs and Meryl Streep playing Miranda Priestly. Crowds went abuzz claiming that the story was about Wintour. Despite the speculation, the editor-in-chief attended the New York City premiere of the film. Per Entertainment Weekly, she wore Prada.

Wintour reportedly did not mind the book, though. In 2022, a biography written about Wintour was released. According to "Anna: The Biography," when she learned the book was going to be published, Wintour said, "I cannot remember who that girl is."

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West appeared on the cover

Prior to their 2022 divorce, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West were one of the most famous couples on the planet. Kardashian has had a meteoric rise to fame and much of it is thanks in part to her love for fashion. Kardashian has famously credited her ex-husband for introducing her to so many contacts in the fashion world.

Long before she was accepting fashion awards, walking the runway for Balenciaga, or sitting front row at Prada, Kardashian was proving herself to the world by appearing on the cover of Vogue. Kardashian appearing on the magazine's cover today would be ordinary news, but in 2014, it was a highly criticized decision.

Anna Wintour, the magazine's editor-in-chief, defended Vogue's choice while simultaneously offending the subject in question. Per Time, Wintour said, "I think if we just remain deeply tasteful and just put deeply tasteful people on the cover it would be a rather boring magazine. Nobody would talk about us. It's very important that people do talk about us." Despite the comments made, Wintour and Kardashian must still be on good terms. In early 2022, Kardashian appeared on the magazine's cover again — this time solo.

Paris Vogue allegedly sexualized children

In 2012, Paris Vogue found itself in hot water by featuring what many felt to be a sexualized photo of a 10-year-old model. The photos featured the model applying lipstick with her finger, as well as a variety of other poses, leading critics to say the model too closely resembled someone of an older age.

The magazine had faced its fair share of controversy before, but this seemed to be new territory for Vogue as the controversy prompted a public official to take legal action. Per The Fashion Spot, Senator Chantal Joanno brought forth legislation in France to ban the production of adult clothing and child sizes, ban beauty pageants for children under the age of 16, and ban casting models under the age of 16 in ad campaigns.

It was also reported that the controversial cover may have been partially responsible for Carine Roitfeld's, former editor-in-chief of French Vogue, departure from the magazine. But as Roitfeld told The New York Times, "It's 10 years that I'm editor of the magazine. I think it's time to do something different."

Anna Wintour suggested Oprah Winfrey lose weight

Back in 1998, two of the media's most prominent women, Anna Wintour and Oprah Winfrey, met. Winfrey was on the cover of Vogue, and after the photo shoot, she featured some of the magazine's employees on her television show. While on air, Winfrey noted that in order for the photo shoot to be successful, she had to essentially be open to any and all of Wintour's direction, and according to Winfrey, part of that direction included losing weight.

When asked about this on "60 Minutes," Wintour said, "I went to Chicago to visit Oprah, and I suggested that it might be an idea that she lose a little bit of weight before she appeared in the magazine ... She was a trooper. She totally welcomed the idea. She went on a very stringent diet. It was one of our most successful covers ever," as reported by People.

Oprah must not have seen it quite the same way, because as she noted later, "Anna doesn't like fat people," per the Daily Mail. In 2018, 20 years after her first Vogue cover, Winfrey appeared at the front of the issue again, only this time for British Vogue.