Karlie Kloss Apologizes for Appearing in Yellowface for “Vogue’s” Diversity Fashion Shoot

February 15, 2017
Model Karlie Kloss appears as a geisha in a recent Vogue photoshoot.

Model Karlie Kloss has apologized for appearing in yellowface for a photoshoot for Vogue magazine.

In the most recent issue of Vogue magazine, Kloss appears styled in full-out geisha drag — complete with kimonos, black wig, and winged dark black eye liner — and poses alongside pagodas, waterfalls, and even a sumo wrestler. And of course, irony of ironies: this putrid revelry in offensive Orientalism appeared in Vogue‘s “diversity” issue. That issue has already been slammed for the lack of body or skin colour diversity in the seven models chosen to grace its cover; and that’s even before anyone opened the magazine up to the photoshoot featuring Karlie Kloss (pictures after the jump)

Kloss, whom (it goes without saying) is not Japanese, appears in apparent yellowface in the Vogue fashion spread, which is only the latest effort by the West to appropriate Asian culture to create and commodify a made-up exotic fantasy of a foreign East. This Orientalism is problematic because it treats culture as costume in order to cast Asia as nothing more than a distant orbiting star of the West: as if the East exists only to tantalize, to excite, to be explored, to be conquered and to be consumed. Orientalism is, therefore, entirely incompatible with any effort to acknowledge the social, political, or cultural agency of Asian people. We cannot be people if we are expected to exist only as figments of the West’s imagination.

Some speculate that the photoshoot by photographer Mikael Jansson was intended to reference a 1966 shoot with German model Veruschka von Lehndorff. But, that seems an overly charitable cop-out: in fact, Vogue has a long and storied history of styling non-Asian female models in fantastical “geisha-inspired” gear and over-the-top chinoiserie as part of highly offensive Orientalist fashion spreads.

An image that appeared in a 2012 issue of Vogue Russia.
An image that appeared in a geisha-inspired spread in Vogue Netherlands.
A disturbing image by photographer Terry Richardson for Vogue Paris.

Let’s be real: Vogue has a long history of racial insensitivity, cultural appropriation, and exploiting Orientalism to appear edgy. We can all agree that the fashion industry can be problematicBut, I think we can also agree that Orientalism and yellowface — in an issue ostensibly about diversity! — is clearly unacceptable and racist.

Kloss issued an apology on Twitter yesterday for her part in Vogue‘s deeply ill-conceived fashion shoot.

There has been no word yet from Vogue itself regarding the controversy.

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