When Fashion Uses People of Colour as Props

Fashion ads and editorials in magazines have a long, sordid history of using people of colour as props (sometimes literally). Elle Canada‘s June issue is the latest publication to make this tasteless misstep.


The editorial, “Heat Wave” (pictured above and throughout) was styled by Juliana Schiavinatto, with photography by Max Abadian and Art Direction by Brittany Ecles. It starred model Pamela Bernier as the happy imperialist.

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The silly thing (aside from you know, the racism), was that Bernier looked great on her own, as you can see above. With the addition of the other folks in the pictures, she looks like the white person we all know who would describe herself as “worldly,” and enthuse about the delicious “other” cuisine she got turned onto thanks to “the locals.”

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Shamefully, Elle Canada does not name the other folks in the pictures. There is a small note at the end of the editorial thanking “Meliá Braco Village and the Jamaica Tourist Board,” but that, I’m afraid, is it.


Don’t believe that using POCs as props is a thing? Check out the list below.

W Continues Fashion’s Tradition of Using ‘Exotic’ People As Props

Fashion Discussion: Black Men as Props

One Of The Most Blatant Racist Photo Shoots We’ve Ever Seen


Elle Canada’s 2016 Model Search Lacking Diversity


Elle Canada recently celebrated its 15th birthday! While this magazine does have a lot of quality reporting, and is arguably one of the most feminist fashion magazines on the market, the racial diversity within its pages is often lacking. In 2015, for example, the majority (seven, to be precise) of issues Elle Canada put on newsstands were Whiteout Issues.

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A new misstep from Elle Canada is the model search they are conducting. As you can see from the scans here, all of the top five finalists of the competition are white.

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Not surprising, mostly just really disappointing–these models reflect a part of Canada, not all of it.

Covers & Content Annual Review 2015, Part 1: Elle Canada

2015 is over and done with, so it’s time to look back on every issue printed this year by Canada’s three top fashion magazines: Elle Canada, Fashion, and Flare, to see how diverse they were overall compared to last year. Up first is Elle Canada!

This review will be divided into three parts (one for each magazine), just like we did last year in 2014 and in previously 2013.

For a review of the Covers & Content project, please check out the FAQ page here.

Closet Feminist Terminology

Whiteout Issue: an issue of a fashion magazine where neither the cover star nor models booked/used for any of the major editorials are people of colour.

Token Diversity Spread: When a fashion magazine books/uses an ensemble of models, including some models of colour or models representing other minorities in the fashion world (i.e., plus size models or visibly older models), but are careful not to allow the minorities chosen to make up the majority of the spread or the majority of models chosen.


Elle Canada what happened this year (wait–did I say the same thing last year?)?? While there was lots of solid reporting in this publication in 2015, diversity improved very slightly: of the twelve issues Elle Canada had on the newsstands in 2015, only one starred a woman of colour exclusively. In 2014, they had zero covers starring a woman of colour exclusively.


Only two issues had editorials featuring models of colour.

There is, overall, some signs of improvement. In 2014, Elle Canada put out seven Whiteout Issues, and in 2015, they only did five. 

So here we go, month by month.



Alana Zimmer was on the cover.

There were three fashion editorials, two of which were typical by featuring thin, white models).

The third editorial featured an ensemble of models, but the one POC they booked for the shoot was only seen once, making it a Token Diversity Spread.


Katie Holmes was on the cover.

There was one fashion editorial this month, starring one thin, Asian model.


Kate Bosworth was on the cover.

There were three fashion editorials, all starring thin, white models, making the March issue of Elle Canada a Whiteout Issue. Read the praise/criticism for this interesting but slightly-off issue here.



Above: from the bizarre/racist editorial “Shape Shifter” in Elle Canada April 2015.

Phoebe Tonkin was on the cover.

There were two fashion editorials this month. The first starred one thin, white model in weirdly racist editorial (pictured above). The second starred one thin, Asian model.


Bella Thorne was on the cover.

There were three fashion editorials, all starring thin, white models, making the May issue of Elle Canada a Whiteout Issue.


Taylor Schilling was on the cover.

There were two fashion editorials, both starring thin, white models, making the June issue of Elle Canada a Whiteout Issue.


Anaïs Pouliot was on the cover.

There were two fashion editorials, both starring thin, white models, making the July issue of Elle Canada a Whiteout Issue.


Carly Rae Jepsen was on the cover.

There were no fashion editorials in the August issue of Elle Canada. There was a sort of collage thing which featured a racist collection, though.



Above: from editorial “We’re all mad here” in Elle Canada Sept. 2015

Diane Kruger was on the cover.

Elle Canada did one major fashion editorial for their September issue. It starred 6 models, but only one of them was a woman of colour (Hannah D. of Elite Toronto). There was also one older model (Judith Maria Bradley). Despite the unique casting, this spread counts as a Token Diversity Spread. 


Cindy Crawford was on the cover.

There were two fashion editorials, both starring thin, white models, making the October issue of Elle Canada a Whiteout Issue.


Gigi Hadid was on the cover.

There were two fashion editorials, both starring thin, white models, making the November issue of Elle Canada a Whiteout Issue.


Kylie Jenner was on the cover.

There were two fashion editorials, both starring thin, white models.



My Must-Read List of Magazines

By: Emily Y.

Whoever says young people/millennials don’t read magazines is wrong—I consume them with unending zeal and always have. Fashion magazines are why I have good style. Lifestyle and cooking magazines are a big reason for why I am able to cook. Here’s the list of magazines I read on the regular.

Elle Canada, FASHION, Flare


Ah, my holy trinity of Canadian fashion magazines. Obviously, I need these magazines for my website as part of the ongoing Covers & Content column and our yearly recaps (even a few videos!)

flare october 2015 coverIf I didn’t ‘need’ these magazines, I would probably still subscribe to Elle Canada and FlareFlare has gotten really on-trend and relevant this past year especially, a must-have for young Canadian millenials I should think. Elle Canada very regularly features feminist content, which is weird for an offshoot of a major international magazine. I would not, however, subscribe to FASHION—it’s like a Canadian Vogue, and I don’t read Vogue unless someone really great is on the cover. The only thing I really like about FASHION are Elio Iannacci’s cover stories—he’s not afraid to ask deep questions and doesn’t shy away from discussing feminism with nearly every one of Fashion’s cover stars.



I got the US Bazaar subscription this year as a birthday present from one of my friends, which I’m super grateful for since it has helped with content for this website. Bazaar is especially interesting to follow because of their dogged loyalty to alleged sexual offender/“fashion” photographer Terry Richardson. I never bought this magazine for this reason alone, but again, it was a lovely, helpful gift.



I love Bitch magazine! This quarterly publication always has a cool theme for each issue (“Food”, “Red”, “Pulp”, amongst others) that you might wonder “how does this theme relate to feminism?” but it always does and its super great. Reading Bitch makes me smarter, and I love the new narratives, stories, and pieces of her story it introduces to me 4x a year. I will say though I feel like the past few issues haven’t been as strong as they usually are. I’m def not ready to throw in the towel yet though!


BUST is probably the coolest magazine I subscribe to, and it breaks my heart that they only publish 6x a year. It’s an out loud and proud feminist magazine, but has tons of cool nuggets of info and entertainment. They have super cool cover stars (Grimes! Janelle Monae! Laverne Cox! Krysten Ritter! Dolly!), and I love how frequently they feature ‘plus’ models in their fashion editorials.

Canadian Living

Canadian-Living-May-2014I know—it’s strange that I, as a twenty-something living in a major city, subscribe to Canadian Living. But you know, I gotta say, I love all the Can-con, and their recipes are super accessible, easy, healthy, and delicious. Their fashion is even pretty good sometimes! I also like all the articles, they are timely and informative, and not stuff that I would otherwise seek out on my own  (usually the health stuff). Everything is well-researched, and proudly Canadian.

Dsquared²’s Super-Racist Fall 2015 Collection Featured in Canadian Fashion Magazines

elle canada ausut 2015 racist d2

Above: Scan from Elle Canada‘s August 2015 issue.

Remember the outcry that surrounded the super-racist Fall 2015 collection by Canadian designers Dsquared²? Well apparently, Elle Canada missed the memo, featuring an outfit from this outrageously offensive collection in their August 2015 issue–above is a scan directly from the magazine above.

And yes, you are reading that scan correctly. It features a quote from Dsquared² actually saying,

“This collection is more about experimentation and details: Tribal influences and royal references mix with an eccentric aesthetic, luxurious materials and artisanal details.”

-Dean and Dan Caten, Dsquared²’

Oh sure, Dsquared², if you by “Tribal influences” you mean “blatant cultural appropriation”…


Above: The runway look that was featured in Elle Canada‘s August 2015 issue. Runway photo found here.

For our international readers who might not know–Canada has a long and violent history of oppressing First Nations and indigenous peoples. This history is mandatory curriculum in every Canadian public school. Therefore, it is highly, highly unlikely that both the designers of Dsquared² and editorial/styling staff of Elle Canada somehow missed this information. I would rather say that the blame rests squarely on both parties for choosing to perpetuate and advertise such offensive designs–both the designers and the magazine should know better.

It’s especially weird for Elle Canada--I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again–Elle Canada has some seriously feminist tendencies, very often featuring feminist content. What on earth would possess them to show such a gross collection? The only excuse I can think of is that they were trying to showcase Canadian designers, but seriously, look at Tanya Taylor’s Fall 2015 collection instead, it was lovely, and she’s clearly not as stupid as Dsquared² seems to be.

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