Racism in fashion? Surely not!


Written by Rebecca Griffith
26 Monday 26th July 2010

Mario Epanya is a Cameroon-born fashion photographer who is currently living in Paris. Alongside his work as a photographer he has been campaigning for an African edition of international fashion bible, Vogue. Epanya has created a series of fictional covers for the magazine using exclusively African models. However the magazine’s publisher, Condé Nast, have rejected the proposal, sparking outrage from across the world. Don’t Panic spoke to Epanya about the impact of the decision on African fashion, African women and ideals of beauty.    

What was your initial reaction when you heard Condé Nast’s decision to reject your proposition for a Vogue Africa?
Well in a very conservative world, I knew the answer would be negative, but I wanted to have a confirmation of that, at the same time there's no reason to continue the innovation.
Where did your idea to do the mock covers come from?
Gosh, that's a long time dream darling! I was born with a Vogue in my hand. Seriously, my mother is a tailor and she lives in Africa – she has been buying Vogue since 1970. She has a huge collection and I remember splendid times in her atelier looking at Vogue magazine. I ate Vogue, I drank Vogue, I slept Vogue... till now, but sadly, there's not enough diversity. Then last year I decided to do the covers… it’s that simple.
What made you decide to do the campaign?
I was tired of seeing titles like, "she was the first black model to ‘grace’ the cover of Vogue.” Tired of seeing this ten times about the same model... ALLO! We're around! We read and we are buyers too... come on! And as I said, one word – DIVERSITY darling, DI-VER-SI-TY!
There are some very successful African models such as Alex Wek and Iman, don’t you think they represent African women in the fashion industry?
Of course, Iman, Alec, Liya… my fierce Naomi (love her) are my girls and they represent black beauty proudly, but that doesn't mean we should stand and clap ours hands because we’ve got ten supermodels – give me a break! And fashion is not only about modelling, there's an industry behind it: designers, shows, advertising, magazines, agencies, photography, beauty, cosmetics, and jewellery.
What’s more, all this creativity has got to be seen and taken to a higher level and I’m sorry, right now only Vogue can do that – no matter what people and haters say – because Vogue is not only a magazine, it's an institution that reveals talent to the world! Look at me – I've been around for almost 15 years now working in fashion. Do you think I'll be here today answering to your questions if I did not mention Vogue!? Vogue makes miracles ok?
Some bloggers have suggested that a Vogue Africa would not be a celebration of African beauty but rather Africans trying to confirm to white ideas of beauty – what do you think about this?
Well, I think if Africa gets involved in what they want to see in magazines and how they see themselves, it can be interesting. People talk, talk and talk, but still in some countries in Africa, a beautiful woman will have lighter skin and weaves whereas a darker-skinned woman is considered ugly. That's the explanation for this horrible bleaching problem in the African community, but I think a magazine should educate too and talk about all this and as I said, diversity.
Now that the idea has been rejected, are you going to carry on campaigning?
LOL, the campaign is carrying itself! The internet coverage is AMAZING, even USA Today and The New York Post are talking about it – Oprah and CNN are the next goals. I think this is going to be a passionate debate and I can't do anything about it, but personally I have turned the page – I’ve done my last mock up cover. I’m working on new projects.
You are a beauty photographer – from your experience why do you think the fashion industry is so preoccupied with ideals of white beauty, when it is an industry based on innovation and new ideas?
Well, well, well, tough question, but I’ll try to answer it in a very simple way. I think it's political. The market was made for the Western countries, and people were always taught things will never change, but the fact is that the world is changing. China, Brazil, India, South Africa are the new market, with trillions of people, with different cultures. The big question is: do they want Western culture or their own? I think culture is about sharing for a better culture don't you?
Do you think Vogue Africa would be relevant to the native population?
Vogue Africa is just a symbol dedicated to all people of African descent no matter where they are: Africa, America, Australia, Europe, West Indies, Brazil, Jamaica...We all have the same Motherland.
What are the main inspirations behind your work?
Africa, Beauty, Nature, Creativity, Culture.
If you could put anyone on the cover of Vogue who would it be?
A group of black women readers from every part of the world.
Find out more on Vogue Africa at Epanya’s website and join the cause via his facebook group.


Don't Panic attempt to credit photographers and content owners wherever possible, however due to the sheer size and nature of the internet this is sometimes impractical or impossible. If you see any images on our site which you believe belong to yourself or another and we have incorrectly used it please let us know at panic@dontpaniconline.com and we will respond asap.


  • Guest: zanelejamjam
    Thu 17 - Mar - 2011, 12:43
    oohhh this is eye opening not on the fact that we don't consider ourselves beautifull as Africans due to whats portraid as beautifull by the Western countries but to also see that race is a big matter, and that some ppl do not want to accept change. I think you jst need to create your own magazine and mainly focus on Afriaca its beauty of culture, creativity, and ofcause the dark skin tone..