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WATCH: Stills Of Naomi Campbell From Vogue Italia's All-Black Issue, July 2008

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The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Vogue Italia black issue” each month.

654

Percentage increase in orders of the 'Vogue' Italia all-black models issue at London's Borders newsagent.

Moments In Fashion History - July 2008: Vogue Italia's
All-Black Models Issue Sells Out - Twice

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BLACK BEAUTY IN VOGUE: Black supermodels Liya Kebede and Naomi Campbell feature on two of the covers from the set of four from Vogue Italia's black models issue, 2008. The special edition pulled together photos of 20 of the best known black supermodels, past and present. Photographed by Steven Meisel.

WHEN VOGUE ITALIA released its all-black models special edition in July 2008 they were unprepared for
the frenzy that ensued as people across the world scrambled to obtain copies. By Ben Arogundade.

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THE ALL-BLACKS: Top: Vogue Italia's all-black models issue covers, July 2008 - Liya Kebede, Sessilee Lopez, Jourdan Dunn and Naomi Campbell. Copies of the fashion magazine sold out across America and Europe. Middle and bottom; spreads from the all-black models issue.

IT WAS A MOMENT THAT ELECTRIFIED the fashion industry, and broke one of their longest standing taboos. For its July 2008 edition Vogue Italia produced a special “all-black” issue, featuring only black models, and with exclusive articles on black-related subjects. Contrary to the well-worn mantra that black fashion models don’t sell, the issue flew off the newsstands, selling out almost immediately.

VOGUE ITALIA EDITOR THINKS BLACK
The edition was the brainchild of Vogue Italia's editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani, and was shot by fashion photographer Steven Meisel, the man behind Madonna’s controversial book, Sex. Sozzani, who has edited the magazine since 1988, stated that the idea was partially influenced by Barack Obama’s ascendency as the US Democratic party’s presidential candidate. “America is ready for a black president, so why are we not ready for a black model?” she told Reuters.

THE ALL-BLACKS GATHER
The Italian edition of Vogue - considered to be the most avant-garde in the magazine stable - has garnered worldwide attention in the past, not only for its outlook on fashion, but also for its features on a topics such as terrorism, drug abuse and plastic surgery. For this special black models edition Meisel shot approximately 100 editorial pages featuring over 20 black fashion models of the past and present, including Iman, Tyra Banks, Alek Wek and Pat Cleveland. This was accompanied by a number of features on prominent blacks in arts and entertainment, including Michelle Obama and Spike Lee. Four different front cover executions of Vogue Italia were produced, featuring the models Liya Kebede, Sessilee Lopez, Jourdan Dunn and Naomi Campbell.

THE BLACK VOGUE RUSH
There was a buzz of excitement as advanced publicity about the special issue began circulating in the media. Word spread virally across the Internet and via mobile phones, as people emailed and texted each other about its imminent arrival. As soon as the fashion magazine hit the newsstands of Britain and America there was a stampede from whites, blacks and other ethnic minorities as they rushed to get the collectable set of all four covers.

BLACK Fashion MODELS SELL?
Sola Oyebade, chief executive of London’s Mahogany Model Management, started up a Facebook page, plus a text and email campaign, in an attempt to make the black issue the biggest-selling Vogue ever, thereby disproving the belief that black models don’t sell. “Our fashion industry is institutionally racist,” she told The Observer. “The explanation for why they don’t use black models is always that we don’t sell, but this shows that’s not true.”

ALL-BLACK SELL OUT
In Britain, retailers struggled to keep up with demand for the black models issue. Borders reported a dramatic first day sell-out, with requests up a massive 654 per cent from normal. “I took so many queries from customers and from individual store managers,” said WH Smith’s women’s magazine buyer Louisa Stokes. “I’ve not seen anything like it. Italian Vogue is normally delivered to only 45 stores, but customers all over the country are asking for it.”

In less than 48 hours, the entire consignment on both sides of the Atlantic had sold out, and publisher Condé Nast had to re-print an additional copies, twice in the US and once in France and Germany.

BLACK MODELS WHITE MONEY
However, despite the all-black issue's overwhelming success, not everybody was happy. Some criticised the fact that although all the models in the Italian edition were black, they were actually absent from the advertising within the magazine's pages, suggesting that when it comes down to awarding models lucrative ad contracts, black models are still way behind.

Time has now passed and things have cooled, and yet as recently as 2011 Vogue Italia’s website was still receiving requests for copies. One desperate reader wrote, “I have been trying to secure a copy of the July 2008 all-black edition for almost three years! The issue on eBay is way over priced and I would love to have this. Can you please email me and let me know how I may get a copy?”

Ben Arogundade's book BLACK BEAUTY is out now.

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NEXT: JOAN SMALLS: FROM LOSER TO WORLD NO.1

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BEAUTY HISTORY & CULTURE

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