Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Was Marion Hume fired from Vogue Australia for putting a black woman on the cover?

Naomi Campbell is never far from the headlines. On Sunday she managed to inadvertently embroil an Australian publisher in one. In a story headlined 'Editor sacked in racism row', Campbell told the UK Telegraph, "One time, I went to Australia. The editor-in-chief of a magazine there told me that she got fired for putting me on the cover. I do remember going there and saying, 'Where's the Aboriginal model? There should be one. They're beautiful women.'" No names are mentioned. But coincidentally, another Brit by the name of Marion Hume edited Vogue Australia for 18 months in the late 1990s, during which time she commissioned Peter Lindbergh to shoot Campbell for the June 1997 cover, above. In 1998 Hume was fired, following a controversial tenure, during which, it should be noted, she did not manage to stem the erosion of circulation and advertising that had begun prior to her appointment with the arrival of marie claire in 1995 and continued with the 1998 rebirth of Harpers Bazaar Australia. From 1995-1999 Vogue lost almost a quarter of its readers and two-thirds of its ad share. In 2002, Conde Nast withdrew from Australian publishing, selling the Vogue license to FPC Magazines, which in turn was acquired by News Limited in November 2006

Another British native, Juliet Ashworth, briefly succeeded Hume at the helm of Vogue Australia. She lasted a year.

Industry insiders claim that Hume was responsible for budget blowouts that took current editor Kirstie Clements, who arrived in 1999, years to pay off. One could speculate that had Hume managed to turn the circulation around, Condé Nast might have turned a blind eye to the costs.

Hume was also criticised for taking the magazine "downmarket". A newspaper-trained journalist and former fashion reporter for The Financial Times, Hume's critical reviews of the thin-skinned designers on show at the newly-minted Mercedes Australian Fashion Week caused a minor uproar in Australia at the time.

But could the Campbell cover really have factored into Hume losing her job?

Frockwriter contacted Hume, Clements and News Magazines earlier today and we are waiting to hear back. Not that News Magazines was involved at the time of course. 

The whereabouts of Peter Gaunt, the former Condé Nast Australia managing director who fired Hume, are unknown. But we are also waiting to hear back from Didier Guerin, the former Condé Nast Asia Pacific president who hired Hume and who is now the president and ceo of the Sydney-based company Media Convergence Asia Pacific.

A former Vogue staffer who worked with Hume said they had never previously heard the racism theory floated with regard to her termination. They did, however, concede that the Campbell cover, which was apparently Hume's first complete issue, did raise eyebrows in the industry at the time.

"I remember it being 'shocking'" they noted. "I do recall people talking about it being controversial, but in a brave kind of way in the fashion industry. I don't remember anyone being aghast".

Being Hume's first complete issue, this also meant that she survived in the job well over a year after the issue was published. 

As part of her settlement with Condé Nast, we understand Hume signed a confidentiality agreement. 

vogue US, september 1989 via we shall overcome in couture

Why would anyone be shocked about a black woman being on the cover of Vogue Australia

Because there have been so few black women on the cover of Vogue Australia.

And indeed even on the cover of the American edition. Some may recall that when flicking through old issues of US Vogue in The September Issue documentary, editor Anna Wintour paused at her September 1989 edition, that was covered by Campbell (above), and made a point of noting "that was a very controversial issue".

It is unclear just how many times women of colour have graced the covers of Vogue Australia since the publication's 1959 launch.

In terms of indigenous Australians, there have only been two in 51 years: Elaine George in September 1993 and Samantha Harris in June this year:

vogue australia june 2010 via TFS

It was tricky tracking down a complete Vogue Australia cover archive, but certainly on the seven year cover archive on vogue.com.au's website, Harris appears to be the first non-Caucasion to have made page one since 2003.

Diversity of all kinds is currently a hot button issue in the fashion business at the moment. 

In terms of ethnic diversity in the modelling business, longtime black inclusion activist Bethann Hardison told The New York Times in 2007 that “It’s the worst it’s ever been”.

Campbell has also been extremely vocal on this issue, claiming in 2007 that she had never once appeared on the cover of her home town edition of Vogue, ie Vogue UK.

It subsequently emerged that Campbell had in fact been on the cover of Vogue UK eight times in 20 years. So really, how credible is her testimony?


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