It is the golden dream of so many political couples in the Western Hemisphere: for the woman to appear on the cover of the most influential fashion magazine, Vogue, and for her husband to accompany her in the interior report and in images captured by the legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz. For many observers of luxury and elites, it is completely natural that a marriage like that of Olena Zelenska and the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, has taken advantage of the opportunity to appear in such a fantastic showcase.
But both are almost literally under fire: because they lend themselves to this exercise that others consider frivolous just when their country is at war and one fifth of its territory has been conquered by a great power; because they make trivial use of places where their compatriots have died and Leibovitz uses tragedy as a sophisticated artistic background; and because if the Ukraine had not been invaded, it is unlikely that the Vogue editors would have ever heard of the Zelenskys: the privilege they owe to the disaster.
An inclement bombardment was unleashed on the internet: “Did we send $58 billion to Ukraine so Zelensky & wife could pose for Vogue? Are they at war and do they have time for photo shoots? right-wing activist Scott Presler, with 1.1 million followers, asked on Twitter. “They’re romanticizing the war, aren’t they, Vogue?”questioned a user on the official Instagram of the publication, where three photos and a small video appeared. Another argued: “It doesn’t seem like a good idea for them to pose in a magazine while people are dying every day in their country. It’s shallow.”
The stumbles of famous politicians
It is not uncommon for Vogue to feature women in politics on the cover. In the United States, for example, 14 of the last 16 first ladies, from Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1940s to Jill Biden now, have been featured in this way during their tenure of officefor that magazine considered iconic for its ability to set trends and influence the lifestyle of millions of women over several generations.
But the Zelenskys may have been warned by some adviser that this was by no means a safe step, as significant examples show.
In 2017, for example, The then British Prime Minister Theresa May wanted to be cautious and chose to appear before Leibovitz’s lens in an elegant dress. and at the same time boring of the firm LK Bennett, which did not serve to prevent a harsh judgment by the press. The newspaper The Guardian published that it was a “defining moment” that, “like Margaret Thatcher in a tank turret looking like a cross between Boudicca and Lawrence of Arabia, it can easily become a marker of everything that is wrong with your style of governing”.
For her part, Kamala Harris caused her own controversy in February of last year. The US edition of the magazine released two different covers, one for its print version and one for its digital version. which immediately raised waves of criticism. Had they given America’s first black female vice president a sloppy or even culturally insensitive touch-up, lightening her skin a bit? Was it disrespectful that her physical magazine featured her wearing old, worn-out sneakers, instead of making her look more presidential? Did they deliberately mislead the Harris team into believing that the more formal portrait of her would appear in print, even though it was only intended for digital?
Actually, the discussion about Kamala Harris was not something superficial at the time —as now it is not the one of the Zelensky—why appearing just three weeks after the attempted coup by Donald Trump supporters on Capitol Hillit was part of a passionate general debate in a country wondering what to do about its serious problems of gender, race and power.
The spite for looking for Vogue
In the United States, Great Britain and other nations, being the star of a Vogue cover is to become the avatar of a cultural moment, perhaps the closest thing any public figure will have to appearing on a postage stamp or on a ticket. In an increasingly atomized information landscape, in which any gesture is lost in the galaxy of gestures of other characters in other media, a Vogue cover is still one of the few platforms capable of directly reaching very diverse audiences.
Even though that invitation —lto Invitation— it will inevitably be controversial, it is both desired and irresistible. So much so that Melania Trump, wife of the former president of the United States, has expressed annoyance that, although she starred in an issue of the magazine in February 2005, she became one of only two first ladies that she was never called during her term in office (2017-2020) while her predecessor Michelle Obama (2009-2016) appeared three times.
“I think the people of the United States realize it,” Melania said in an interview last May, “and I have much more important things to do, and I did them in the White House, than being on the cover of Vogue.” The Zelenskys certainly have bigger problems than Melania. But time was given.