Vogue has photographed nearly every first lady since Lou Hoover, wife of Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the United States. (Harry Truman's wife, Bess, declined.) But only one, Hillary Clinton, has made it to the front cover. That was in 1998. Ten years later, Michelle Obama, wife of the 44th president, becomes the second, as the current first lady appears on the March cover of Vogue.
Photographed in a magenta sheath dress designed by Jason Wu, Ms. Obama doesn't come off like she's trying to be a glamour puss. Instead, she looks real and approachable, which is something Vogue Editor at Large Andre Leon Talley said was intentional.
Perhaps the most startling thing about the cover is that it places such a non-glitzy image of an African-American woman beneath the logo of America's most mainstream fashion title. The fashion industry has gotten its lumps for its sparse use of black models, and when those women do get the jobs, it seems almost inevitable that they end up wearing "exotic" or "tribal" looks.
That was one of the criticisms that Franca Sozzani, editor of Italian Vogue, wanted to address when she started putting together the title's all-black issue, which was published in July and sold out when it appeared on U.S. newsstands. Ms. Sozzani cited Barack Obama as an inspiration for the idea. Photographer Steven Meisel, who shot most of the photos for the issue, said his motivation was to get the fashion industry past its discrimination. "I thought, it's ridiculous, this discrimination," he told The New York Times in a June article about the Italian Vogue issue. "It's so crazy to live in such a narrow, narrow place. Age, weight, sexuality, race -- every kind of prejudice." He also was quoted as saying that advertisers often resist casting black models. "I have asked my advertising clients so many times, 'Can we use a black girl?' They say no." The concern is that consumers will resist the product, he said. "It all comes down to money." Amazing what an election win will do. Already, advertisers have started to use more black faces in mainstream ads, and fashion brands are eager to jump on any association with the Obamas. Just ask J. Crew.