The Stars of September

Rihanna on the cover of British Vogue, where the main controversy was the return of tiny eyebrows.

In a survey of the last 10 years of September issues of 10 of the top international fashion magazines, people of color appeared on September covers 26 percent of the time.

This September? A full 50 percent of the covers in this cohort have women of color on the cover.

As Maiysha Kai wrote on The Glow Up, September 2018 is “shaping up to be a beautiful month for black women.” Rihanna is on British Vogue; Beyoncé, on Vogue; and Tiffany Haddish, on Glamour. (Abroad, Tracee Ellis Ross is on the cover of Elle Canada, and the model Slick Woods appears on the cover of Elle U.K.)

In the occasionally parallel universe of women’s fashion magazines, the calendar diverges from the standard, and it is September that is the center of the year. September issues are the most important, and frequently the biggest, issues of the year. It is not an accident that R.J. Cutler’s documentary on the making of Vogue focused on the September issue. It is not an accident it was called “The September Issue.”

“As you know, September issues are important in the fashion world, our largest and most lavish of the year and a real statement about what the coming months will bring,” Edward Enninful, the editor of British Vogue, wrote in a letter that went online with his September issue.

Mr. Enninful, for his first September issue, chose Rihanna, photographed by Nick Knight and styled by Mr. Enninful as a hothouse flower. “Honestly, I’m so honored to do it,” she said in a behind-the-scenes video that went up on British Vogue’s website. “I couldn’t believe it. I just didn’t expect it to be September.”

Beyoncé reprised her September 2015 spot on the cover of Vogue this year, with a shoot by Tyler Mitchell, the first African-American photographer in the history of Vogue covers. Beyoncé’s “as told to” text was conducted by Clover Hope, a black journalist.


“When I first started, 21 years ago,” Beyoncé said in the interview, “I was told that it was hard for me to get onto covers of magazines because black people did not sell. Clearly that has been proven a myth.”

Because of the perception that a cover model must “sell” an issue on the newsstand, this survey looked specifically at newsstand covers, which in some cases differ from covers sent to subscribers. (A more detailed methodology follows.)


Five September 2018 issues in our sample set of 10 magazines feature women of color: Vogue, British Vogue, W (whose “Volume 4” issue, out in print next week, features the “Black Panther” actress Letitia Wright on one cover and Millie Bobbie Brown on another), Glamour (Tiffany Haddish) and Marie Claire (Zendaya). (A handful of September issues had yet to debut.)

In 2017, three magazines in this cohort had women of color on the cover.

In 2016 — with one Hadid on both Vogue Paris and Vogue Italia and another Hadid on Glamour — six of the 10 issues fronted women of color.

Back in 2015, Beyoncé and Bella Hadid stood alone.

All too often, women and men of color appear on smaller titles or, in some cases, subscriber-only editions. At Harper’s Bazaar, which shot musicians with their families for its cover story, Kanye West and two of his children, North and Saint, are mailed to customers.


But on the newsstand, it’s Bruce Springsteen and his daughter, Jessica, who peer off the rack.

At InStyle, which has six separate covers for its September issue, the model Imaan Hammam is on one, but for subscribers only. Jennifer Aniston alone goes to the magazine shop.

Likewise, a look back at the last decade of covers makes clear that some magazines are more inclusive than others. InStyle and W had more models of color on September issues than any other magazine — five out of the last 10 years. Glamour and Vogue followed, with four each.

The European titles lagged. Vogue Italia had a single black model on its September issue in the last decade: Naomi Campbell, who shared the space with models including Natalia Vodianova, Stella Tennant, Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista, in 2014, as well as a cover with Bella Hadid, who is of Palestinian and Dutch heritage. Vogue Paris had only one cover featuring a nonwhite woman, Ms. Hadid again, with the model Taylor Hill. (The September issues of Vogue Paris and Vogue Italia arrive at the end of this month; until then, their covers are a closely guarded secret.)

No woman of East or Southeast Asian descent was featured on the main newsstand cover of any American or European magazine in the group surveyed.

What a look back indicates, as well, is a preference for repeats. More than 20 women appeared more than once on September covers, and a handful three and four times each — among them, Beyoncé, Ms. Aniston, Jennifer Lawrence and Katy Perry.

As for Rihanna, she need not be so surprised by her September British Vogue coup. Over the last 10 years, she has tied Ms. Aniston as the third-most frequent choice for a September cover, behind only Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne.

The People

The term “person of color” has definitions that may change across countries and cultures. Here, we are using primarily American constructions and definitions. Some examples: Ms. Hadid and her sister, Gigi, are of Palestinian and Dutch heritage. Emails to a representative for the sisters on how they prefer to identify were not returned. Because Gigi Hadid has spoken about the importance of her identity as Arab and is both welcomed and questioned for it, we count them as women of color. (Zendaya is biracial too, after all.) And because of the vagaries of American construction of identity, Selena Gomez and Jennifer Lopez count and Penelope Cruz … doesn’t. (Clover Hope agrees.)

The Magazines

For this test, the magazines surveyed were Vogue, British Vogue, Vogue Paris, Vogue Italia, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, W, Glamour, and InStyle, all published by the industry’s major corporate players, Condé Nast, Hearst and Meredith, which recently acquired Time Inc. titles. We focused on magazines that seemed specifically and primarily concerned with fashion; that removed Vanity Fair, though September is its annual “Style Issue,” and magazines like Cosmopolitan and Allure. We looked only at magazines currently putting out print issues, so Teen Vogue and Self were out. And we exempted twice-yearly and quarterly magazines, and looked only at those with eight or more issues per year, which could reasonably be said to have September issues, even if they are not called “September” as such.

(W considers both its “Volume 4” issue, out in print next week, and its “Volume 5,” out Sept. 4, as September issues, for instance. Volume 4 is discussed above; 5 features Cate Blanchett, who guest-edited the issue with an all-female team of photographers, stylists and artists for a “Female Gaze” theme.)

Extra caveats

Some magazines do covers for the issues they mail to subscribers that are different from the ones they sell on the newsstand, though for most fashion magazines, newsstand sales are now a fraction of total circulation. (For Elle, according to the most recent numbers it includes in its media kit, from the first half of 2017, single copy sales account for only 5.3 percent.)

In some cases, those covers are different photographs of the same star, but in others, there are entirely different personalities. This count takes into account only people of color on newsstand editions, where a cover image can make the difference between sale or no sale.

Lastly, some issues feature multiple stars on a single cover, sometimes on so-called gatefold covers, which fold out into several panels (and accordingly, accommodate more people). We made the determination to count any cover that featured at least one model of color.

There was no partial credit given for being one of many rather than one alone — provided that she or he was on the first, and most desirable panel (that is to say, not hidden behind a foldout).

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