Kimye: The Faces (and Clothes) of Change
Matthew Munhall | Tuesday, March 25, 2014
The Internet exploded Friday afternoon with equal parts controversy and excitement when Vogue released its April cover, featuring tabloid fixtures Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. The Annie Leibovitz-shot cover depicts the reality star in a stunning gray Lanvin wedding dress, lovingly embraced by the rapper, who is wearing a Yves Saint Laurent blazer. The cringe-worthy hashtag on the cover — #WorldsMostTalkedAboutCouple — was affirmed by the online reception to the cover, as commenters decried Vogue’s decision and vowed to cancel their subscriptions.
The couple has long lusted after a Vogue cover, with West defending his then-fiancé in an interview with Ryan Seacrest in October 2013: “There’s no way Kim Kardashian shouldn’t be on the cover of Vogue right now. She’s like the most intriguing woman right now.” In the past, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour had allegedly refused to ever feature Kardashian in the magazine and famously banned her from the 2012 Met Ball. Yet in her editor’s letter, Wintour defended the decision to feature West and Kardashian, explaining: “Part of the pleasure of editing Vogue, one that lies in a long tradition of this magazine, is being able to feature those who define the culture at any given moment, who stir things up, whose presence in the world shapes the way it looks and influences the way we see it.”
While detractors rush to decry West and Kardashian as “undeserving” of a Vogue cover, it’s not a question of whether or not the couple is deserving. At the end of the day a magazine cover is a business decision, driving sales at a time when print media is on the decline. Wintour has certainly proven herself as a savvy businesswoman in her time at the helm of Vogue, and regardless of your personal feelings about the couple, their influence on American mass culture in the year 2014 is undeniable.
More importantly, the Vogue cover is symbolic. West has spent the better part of the past year giving interviews railing against the classist and elitist mechanisms he has faced in the fashion industry. There still exists a tendency to cling to antiquated notions of what is considered “high art.” The truth is that rap music and reality television are legitimate forms of entertainment that have dominated the cultural conversation of the 21st century. West and Kardashian use their platform to obliterate these divisions between high and low culture. “It’s really interesting that we’re on the front lines of a few different concepts at the same time,” he explained in the cover story. “You’ve got the interracial thing; you have mega-media and mega-art crash; you have, you know, the Vogue-and-reality show combination.”
Furthermore, West and Kardashian regularly receive a disproportionately unwarranted amount of hate. It’s unfortunate that even in 2014, an interracial couple on the cover of Vogue is still such a big deal, but the couple is met with the rampant racism that persists in the fashion world. So much of the contempt directed at Kardashian is slut-shaming stemming from a sex tape created more than a decade ago, even though she has built a multimillion-dollar empire in the years since. It is also rare to see a woman with curves represented in high fashion, and Kardashian’s image stands as a contrast to the impossibly thin standard usually showcased in Vogue.
West and Kardashian’s Vogue cover recognizes the importance of their unapologetic confidence. As writer Ayesha Siddiqi perfectly tweeted, “no two pop culture figures expose our cultural anxieties about women, black men and who we allow self esteem & to what degree, [more] than Kimye.” It is an affirmation of their relevance to art, fashion and mass media, despite the elitist criticism they constantly receive. While a single Vogue cover does not solve all of high fashion’s representation issues, it is a refreshing and necessary start.