Is the Israel-Palestine Conflict Being Fought on the Cover of Vogue?

When American Vogue relaunched its website, it chose U.S.-Palestinian model Gigi Hadid to recreate a classic cover shot of Israeli Michaela Bercu. Should we call the fashion police?

Shahar Atwan
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Gigi Hadid with the November 1988 copy of Vogue.
Gigi Hadid with the November 1988 copy of Vogue.Credit: Screengrab
Shahar Atwan

A great many tales have told about the first American Vogue cover created by Anna Wintour after she was appointed editor-in-chief in 1988. It was around this time of year, and Wintour – a young, promising editor with experience at Harper’s Bazaar and British Vogue – was preparing the cover shoot of the November issue.

The new editor, known for her sharp eye and refreshing, aesthetic perception, recruited Israeli model Michaela Bercu. Then 18, Bercu was signed to the French agency, Elite, and had already notched many achievements internationally before reporting for the Vogue shoot.

But then there was a mishap. The clothes selected for Bercu to wear during the shoot – a black shirt and skirt designed by French designer Christian Lacroix – didn’t fit. The skirt was too small. With no other choice, Bercu wore the shabby jeans she was wearing en route to the photo shoot.

Wintour didn’t get too riled by the ordeal – or at least, that’s how the story goes. She trusted fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh to do the best he could. The unwritten rule of Wintour’s predecessors had been to use a close-up of the model looking stylish. Wintour, however, reportedly looked at the picture of Bercu in her stonewashed jeans, smiling naturally on a Manhattan street, and decided – that’s the cover.

That photo was a major deviation from Vogue covers going back decades, and Wintour likes to tell of how the printers called her to check that there wasn’t a mistake after the magazine went to press. It’s known now that it wasn’t a mistake, but rather a calculated risk that paid off handsomely.

The photo not only triggered shock waves in the industry and garnered heaps of attention for the new editor-in-chief, it also revolutionized the way people perceived the line between popular and high fashion.

In hindsight, there’s no doubt that this daring photo was a turning point for high fashion. Today, the combination of couture with items from chain stores is often taken for granted. But then, matching an old pair of jeans bought for less than $100 with a shirt designed by a Parisian powerhouse with a price tag of over $10,000, was against any and all protocols.

This iconic cover also started another revolution: the rise of street fashion photography – until then largely on the sidelines – for the covers of the most popular fashion magazines.

For all these reasons, it’s no surprise that all the magazine’s editors (and Wintour herself) chose to commemorate the relaunch of Vogue’s website by recreating the November 1988 cover, thus adding to its mythical status. Gigi Hadid, a 19-year-old American model whose name has become very popular in high-fashion circles, was chosen for the latest shoot.

With her light hair, skin tone and natural smile, she immediately invokes the image of Bercu. One thing, however, sets the two models apart: Hadid is Arab on her father’s side, the descendent of a Palestinian family that immigrated to the United States. Her father is real-estate mogul Mohamed Hadid; her mother the Dutch model and actress Yolanda Foster.

It’s interesting to wonder how much thought Wintour and Co. gave to Hadid’s family background when they mulled placing her in Bercu’s shoes. Did Wintour consider the potential for a possible media backlash amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a backlash that could do quite a PR service for the magazine and its relaunched website?

It wouldn’t be fair on Hadid – who is set to walk down the runway at New York’s Fashion Week (September 4-11) for the first time – if she was chosen based on her father’s ethnicity, because Bercu wasn’t chosen for being Israeli.

In fact, Wintour had more than enough reason to choose Hadid regardless of the political connotations. Aside from the substantial physical resemblance between the two – which, of course, was a factor – in recent months Hadid’s career has really been taking off.

As Vogue’s editors put it themselves on their website, “With the runway shows of the international fashion weeks around the corner, Gigi seems to be an It-girl in waiting, the model-of-the-moment to-be.”

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