So, Let's Talk About That Time Elle Germany Reduced Black Models to a Fashion Trend...

Illustration for article titled So, Let's Talk About That Time Elle Germany Reduced Black Models to a Fashion Trend...
Screenshot: Victor Demarchelier (Elle Germany)

With that headline and Elle Germany’s proclamation that we’re going “Back to Black” this season, you might be wondering why you’re looking at a cover featuring Danish model Gertrud Hegelund—likely a lovely person, but by no means a black one. Or perhaps you’re wondering why we’re making a fuss, since Elle must’ve been talking about black clothing (which makes us the real racists; we know).


But as it turns out, there was a very real racial gaffe committed by the German outlet of Elle, as they attempted to highlight several of the top black models in the industry on a single page (not a fashion editorial or entire issue, mind you) topped with the ill-advised header “Black is back.”

Ummm...back from where? Where did we go, exactly?

To make matters worse, the magazine mislabeled model Naomi Chin Wing as Janaye Furman (you know, because we all look alike). Furman posted an epic response, via Instagram.

Fashion watchdogs Diet Prada also got in on the Get Out-inspired humor, mocking Elle Germany’s clumsy handling of “diversity and inclusion” by posting an Insta-clip of Jordan Peele’s instant classic.


In defense of its indefensible tokenism (it is 2019, after all), Elle Germany’s editor in chief Sabine Nedelchev issued the following statement (h/t Fashionista):

In our current issue we approach the [color] black from different angles. One of our focuses was to feature strong black women who work as fashion models.

In doing so, we were guilty of several errors for which we sincerely apologize.

It was wrong to use the cover line “Back to black” which could be misconstrued to mean that black individuals are some sort of fashion trend. This obviously was not our intention and we regret not being more sensitive to the possible misinterpretations.

Misidentifying the model Naomi Chin Wing as Janaye Furman is a further error for which we apologize. We are aware of how problematic this is.

This has definitely been a learning experience for us and, again, we deeply regret any harm or hurt we have unwittingly caused.


Honey, you can approach black from any angle you want, but please don’t approach our identity as if it’s the next “It bag.”


Clapback queen Naomi Campbell also addressed the issue on Instagram, offering Elle’s editor not only a thorough reading but her guidance, in tandem with fellow fashion activists Bethann Hardison and Iman (oh, to be a fly in that boardroom):

Dear sabine nedelchev @ellegermany This makes me so sad to see this, @bethannhardison @the_real_iman and I are here if you are not clear on the guide lines of diversity.. your mistake it is highly insulting in every way, .. you go further to say that BACK TO BLACK, even if you [meant] the fashion it’s is misleading on your headline and Type !! ! I’ve said countless of times we are not a TREND. We are here to STAY. It’s ok to celebrate models of color but please do it in an ELEGANT and RESPECTFUL way .

I too in my career have seen pictures of others models called me just because of the color of our Skin, and recently seen many pictures of models of color being called being @adutakech .. do you know what it feels like to do the job ( @naomichinwing ) and not even be given the right name credit ? . Very disappointing to say the least . If you would like a conversation to know how to have A diverse mind we are here to sit and accommodate . It’s very important for a publication to be culturally sensitive and give credit where it’s due . We all need to unite on this matter NAOMI THANK YOU @diet_prada . #defendingmybabies


Whew, chile...this is how phones get thrown.

In other words, if this is “diversity and inclusion,” please leave us the hell out of it until you figure out how to do it correctly, Elle Germany. In the meantime, you need more (black) friends.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?



A fail on every level. And most of all for not offering any remedial actions besides their own learning. Its exhausting to keep having these incidents framed as ‘mistakes’ happening in a vacuum, while publications and the industry as a whole (while begrudgingly making some progress) are hardly making the requisite institutional changes for systemic change. Nobody needs these sorrys which only serve to avoid actual accountability. Dig a little fucking deeper into your pockets and hire some black staff at senior levels. It’s not rocket science if you actually give a shit.