The Democratic senator, who is set to be inaugurated on Jan. 20 as the first woman, first Black American and first Asian American to assume the job of Vice President, appears on the cover of the elite fashion magazine's February 2021 issue wearing a black blazer, white top, black pants, as well as two of her signature looks—Converse sneakers and a string of pearls. She is standing amid a green backdrop draped with pink satin fabric—a nod to her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.
A photo of this cover was leaked online Saturday, Jan. 9, and later confirmed to be authentic by Vogue. The image drew much criticism on social media.
In a statement released to E! News, Vogue explained that the goal of the shoot was to emphasize Harris' "approachable" personality.
"The team at Vogue loved the images Tyler Mitchell shot and felt the more informal image captured Vice President-elect Harris's authentic, approachable nature—which we feel is one of the hallmarks of the Biden/Harris administration," the statement read. "To respond to the seriousness of this moment in history, and the role she has to play leading our country forward, we're celebrating both images of her as covers digitally."
An insider tells E! News that the magazine collaborated closely with Harris on the creative decisions including the styling for the shoot, and that both looks were chosen by the VP-elect and her team.
"Kamala Harris is about as light skinned as women of color come and Vogue still f--ked up her lighting," tweeted one user. "WTF is this washed out mess of a cover?
Another person wrote that the image "is washed out, poorly lit, stagnant, junk. How could you do such a disservice to a vibrant, beautiful woman? Shameful."
Journalist Yashar Ali tweeted that according to a "source familiar with the publication plans," the image is "not the cover that was mutually agreed upon" by Vogue and Harris' team. On Sunday, Jan. 10, Vogue released a second cover image, in which Harris is shown in a closer angle and sports a powder blue Michael Kors suit and a different pearl necklace in front of a wood backdrop.
Ali said he was told the cover showing Harris in the blue suit was "the Vogue cover Kamala Harris' team thought would be released," noting it will be the digital cover while the leaked image "has already gone to print and will be the cover available for sale and sent to subscribers."
One user tweeted that the first cover is "substandard" and "suspiciously racist."
Activist and writer Charlotte Clymer tweeted that while the cover with the pink and green backdrop "isn't terrible as a pic," it's "just far, far below the standards" of Vogue. "They didn't put thought into it," she wrote. "Like homework finished the morning it's due. Disrespectful."
One user responded, "I disagree. I think a lot of thought went into the choice. I think it was deliberate. And I'm pissed. Kamala Harris represents so many firsts, and Vogue presented this? It was purposeful. And wrong. And racist."
Another person wrote, "Don't print that badly lighted cover on the left. Learn how to light and take photos of Black ppl."
Similar sentiments were echoed on Instagram. "You need to improve," one person wrote in the comments under Vogue's image of its cover of Harris with the green and pink backdrop. "Kamala's beautiful skin is completely washed out in that photo!"
Another user commented, "Ugh - this is a terrible photo of a gorgeous, powerful, brilliant, and inspirational woman. Shame on you vogue - do better by black women.
Some people did praise the controversial image. "I absolutely love this cover!!" one user tweeted. "The shot depicts exactly who she is. The pic and green rep her sorority, the converse rep her realness and a glam squad was not required... she's pretty without makeup. Kudos to @voguemagazine for recognizing the of @KamalaHarris."
In her cover interview, Harris talked to Vogue about her political aspirations and how she plans on working with President-elect Joe Biden. She said she sees herself as a vice president who "will always speak truth, always give him my opinion, which will be based on fact and knowledge and life experience, and do it in a way that allows him, when he makes a decision, to make it with full information about the impact—and he has asked me to do that."
She also echoed Biden's calls to unite the country. "We can agree that we have more in common than what separates us," she told Vogue. "And agree that it's not in the best interest of who we are as a nation to have any one group suffer for who they are."