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Anna Wintour addresses backlash over Kamala Harris' controversial Vogue cover

When the cover for the magazine's February issue leaked over the weekend, critics on social media swiftly called out the styling and lighting in the photo.
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As criticism over Vogue's February 2021 cover of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris swirled online, some social media users called for the magazine's Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour to step down.Edward Berthelot / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour has spoken out about the magazine's controversial February cover, which features Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in a photo that drew backlash from critics on social media.

The iconic fashion magazine and Wintour herself came under fire when the cover was leaked online late Saturday. Many were quick to call out the lighting and casual styling of the cover photo that shows the former California senator in a black suit jacket, skinny pants and Chuck Taylor sneakers. Many felt Harris, the first Black and South Asian woman to be elected vice president, appeared "washed out." One person called the image "disrespectful."

Wintour, 71, addressed the criticism in a statement to New York Times' Kara Swisher, saying that the team at Vogue "understood the reaction."

"I just want to reiterate that it was absolutely not our intention to, in any way, diminish the importance of the vice president-elect’s incredible victory," she said.

"We want nothing but to celebrate Vice President-elect Harris' amazing victory and the important moment this is in America's history and particularly for women of color all over the world."

On Sunday, Vogue released a digital version of its February cover, featuring a different photo of Harris in a powder-blue suit. Reports began circulating that Harris' team believed the second image would be the one to cover its print issue. Vogue told TODAY that it is using both images as digital covers. Harris' representatives did not return TODAY's request for comment.

In her statement to the Times, Wintour clarified those reports about the photo selection.

"There was no formal agreement about what the choice of the cover would be, and when the two images arrived at Vogue, all of us felt very, very strongly that the less formal portrait of the vice president-elect really reflected the moment that we were living in, which we were in the midst, as we still are of the most appalling pandemic that is taking lives by the minute," she said.

"We felt to reflect this tragic moment in global history, a much less formal picture, something that was very, very accessible and approachable and real, really reflected the hallmark of the Biden-Harris campaign and everything that they're trying to and I'm sure will achieve."

Wintour's comments echoed the statement Vogue provided Sunday when responding to critiques of the print cover image.

"The team at Vogue loved the images Tyler Mitchell shot and felt the more informal image captured Vice President-elect Harris's authentic, approachable nature — which we feel is one of the hallmarks of the Biden/Harris administration," read the magazine's statement to TODAY. "To respond to the seriousness of this moment in history, and the role she has to play leading our country forward, we're celebrating both images of her as covers digitally."

TODAY learned over the weekend that Harris dressed and styled herself for the shoot with Mitchell, who became the first Black photographer to shoot a Vogue cover in 2018, and that the looks in both photos were chosen by her and her team. Prior to the controversy, Wintour told Swisher that the photos were meant to be "joyful," "casual" and "accessible."

The vice president-elect's niece, entrepreneur Meena Harris, also addressed Vogue's photos of her aunt in an interview with Jenna Bush Hager that aired in part Tuesday on TODAY.

"It's a big moment where we've elected the first woman in history, the first Black woman in history, and South Asian woman, to hold the office of vice president in our country's history," Meena Harris said. "It deserves the proper celebration of that moment, especially for a magazine that often has not had Black women on the cover."

"I love the photos of the powder-blue suit," she added. "I think that Tyler's incredibly talented. ... It's a big moment, and I'm glad that Tyler captured images in that blue suit that I think are deserving of this extraordinary moment."

Jenna's full interview with Meena Harris airs this Friday on TODAY.