Elle Germany's 'Back to Black' issue misidentifies two black models, puts white model on the cover

Elle Germany
The magazine has been slammed for its latest issue. Photo credit: Elle Germany / Diet Prada / Instagram

Elle Germany has been slammed for declaring "Back to Black" on their November 2019 issue, referencing the magazine's assumption that black models are making a resurgence.

Yet the publication's attempt at inclusivity has been called out by a number of high-profile names - not only for misidentifying black models, but for featuring a white model on its cover.

The magazine's "black is back" feature has listed 31-year-old Puerto Rican supermodel Joan Smalls among newcomers such as Anok Yai, 21, Adut Akech, 19, Aliet Sarah, 18 and Mayowa Nicholas, 21 - despite Smalls being ranked as the number one model in the world in 2012. 

The caption, "Schön, erfolgreich, engagiert: Nie waren 'models of colour' so gefragt wie jetzt. Diese großartigen frauen inspirieren uns aber auch abseits der Laufstege" roughly translates to: "Already, successful, committed: Never have 'models of colour' been in demand as they are now. But these great women also inspire us off the catwalks"

Instagram 'watchdog' account, Diet Prada, shared images of the magazine's mishaps on Tuesday, drawing attention to the misidentification of models Naomi Chin Wing and Janaye Furman.

"Ironic when they, along with much of the fashion industry, have been complicit in denying visibility to black models until relatively recently. Oh, and apparently they can't actually tell models apart," Diet Prada captioned the image.

The magazine labelled an image of Naomi Chin Wing as Janaye Furman.
The magazine labelled an image of Naomi Chin Wing as Janaye Furman. Photo credit: Naomi Chin Wing / Instagram; Diet Prada / Instagram

"A picture of Naomi Chin Wing is used in place of Janaye Furman. And Joan Smalls hasn't gone anywhere. The issue, titled 'Back to Black', also features a white model on the cover. You can't make this stuff up."

The feature has also been criticised for using "black" and "models of colour" interchangeably, with "people of colour" typically used as an umbrella term for races who are not European or Caucasian. 

English supermodel Naomi Campbell, who is of Jamaican heritage, also weighed in on the controversy, addressing an Instagram post directly to Elle Germany's editor in chief, Sabine Nedelchev.

"This makes me so sad to see. Your mistake is highly insulting in every way... I've said countless times, we are not a trend. We are here to stay," Campbell wrote.

"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."

Sabine Nedelchev has since shared a statement in response to the condemnation on Elle Germany's Instagram.

"In our current issue we are approaching the colour black from different angles... it was our aim to feature strong black women who work as models in the fashion industry," the statement begins.

"We have made several mistakes for which we apologise to anyone we might have hurt.

"It was a mistake to use the cover line, 'Back to Black', which could be understood as if black persons [sic] would be a kind of fashion trend. This obviously wasn't our intention."

The team also addressed misidentifying Naomi Chin Wing as Janaye Furman, saying they understood its "problematic" nature.

Janaye Furman has publicly responded to the incident with a not-so-cryptic Instagram video of her sipping a cup of tea, accompanied by "#backisblack".

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