Over the weekend, the publication announced the vice president-elect as their February 2021 cover star after an image leaked online early. However, Vogue quickly faced criticism for how Harris—who is set to be inaugurated alongside President-Elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20—was portrayed in one of the photos, which shows her donning a blazer, pants, a pearl necklace and her signature Converse sneakers.
Many on social media criticized the publication for the casual shot, with one Twitter user noting, "Kamala Harris is about as light skinned as women of color come and Vogue still f--ked up her lighting. WTF is this washed out mess of a cover?" Another social media user also commented that the photo "is washed out, poorly lit, stagnant, junk," asking Vogue, "How could you do such a disservice to a vibrant, beautiful woman? Shameful."
In response to the backlash, Wintour told the New York Times' Sway podcast that Vogue "wants nothing but to celebrate Vice President-elect Harris' amazing victory and the important moment this is in American history particularly women of color all over the world."
"There was no formal agreement about what the choice of the cover would be," the editor-in-chief continued during the Jan. 12 episode. "And when the two images arrived at Vogue all of us felt very very strongly that the less formal portrait of the vice president-elect really reflected the moment that we were living in, which we were in the midst, as we still are of the most appalling pandemic that is taking lives by the minute."
In the second image, Harris—set to become the first female, Black and Indian-American vice president—is seen in a blue blazer as she smiles at the camera. However, Wintour felt it did not accurately depict the current climate in the U.S.
"We felt to reflect this tragic moment in global history a much less formal picture," she explained, "something that was very very accessible and approachable and real, really reflected the hallmark of the Biden-Harris campaign and everything they are trying to and I'm sure will achieve."
Amid the outpouring of criticism earlier this week, Vogue released a statement to E! News, sharing the intended goal of the images. "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 message 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."
Harris has yet to publicly address the controversy and she has not promoted the cover story on her social media platforms.