Yet again, the French appear to be one Louboutin-clad heel ahead of America in the race toward representative diversity in the fashion industry. Despite being a few years late to Beverly Johnson's cover of American Vogue in 1974, it was 1988 when Naomi Campbell became the first African-American model to cover French Vogue. In 2007, then-editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld put Andre J., a black, androgynous model, next to Carolyn Murphy on its November cover, solidifying its status as the leader in high-fashion glossies that go beyond fashion and get people talking. Today, the publication continues that stride with its March cover, which features transgender model Valentina Sampaio.
Shot by photographer duo Mert Alas and Marcus Piggot and styled by the glossy's editor-in-chief, Emmanuelle Alt, the cover is accompanied by the text 'Transgender beauty: How they're shaking up the world." The cover was released this morning, in the middle of New York Fashion Week, where the topic of diversity on the runways continues to be a dominant industry conversation. In an Instagram post of the cover on the magazine's official account, the caption reads, "This month we are proud to celebrate transgender beauty and how models like Valentina Sampaio, who is posing for her first ever Vogue cover, are changing the face of fashion and deconstructing prejudice." In a stateside breakfast with American Vogue's fashion features director Mark Holgate, Alt explained why featuring the relatively unknown Sampaio on the cover — solo — felt so right. She's seemingly preparing their readership for the day when other transgender models can be featured on magazine covers without the need to disclose their gender identities. and how when that's a reality, it'll be a major victory in terms of societal acceptance of a wide gender identity spectrum. "We are living in a world at the moment, what is happening right now, we are stepping back,” she told Holgate. “Instead of being in a constant evolution, which is what should happen, human rights...they’re not going in a good direction. This cover is about the importance of those rights, and that we still need to make progress on an awful lot of stuff." Recently, top model Hanne Gaby Odiele came out as intersex, adding her voice to the same conversation. (The 29-year-old model has been a regular on the covers of international editions of Vogue for years.) Appearing on the cover of a storied magazine like Vogue continues to be a major triumph for models, especially those who grace multiple editions of the magazine in their career. That coup, and the success that follows, is why Sampaio's cover is especially unique. It's not just because she's transgender. It's because she's featured and styled on the issue in a way that any other female-born model would be, and not fetishized because of her gender identity. After confirming to Sampaio and her agent that the cover was indeed going to print, the model couldn't believe it, according to Alt's conversation with Holgate. Alt vows to work with Sampaio again, which is a testament to French Vogue's longstanding tradition of pushing the envelope forward.