Somebody on the social media desk at Vogue France made a blunder on Friday, when what was probably intended as a light-hearted round-up of Paris Fashion Week street style on Instagram provoked an international uproar over inclusivity and Islamophobia.
The post in question was a carousel of four photographs of Kanye West and his girlfriend, Julia Fox, opening with an image of Fox dressed in a leather trench and black headscarf. The now-amended caption originally stated: “Yes to the headscarf!”
The irony was not lost on Muslim social media users across the globe, who were quick to flood the comments section with their outrage, disappointment and incredulity.
The country has taken one of the most severe anti-hijab and anti-niqab stances in Europe. Niqabs are banned in all public places – a law that was not amended even when the government mandated face masks for Covid-19, which cover the same area of the face. Meanwhile, celebrities like Fox have been allowed to cover their hair and even faces in Paris over the past week.
“It’s pretty ironic considering how any Muslim woman covering her hair is afraid for her safety, unless you’re a white woman wearing it for fashion purposes,” says modest fashion designer Safiya Abdallah, who lives in Dubai.
Upon seeing Vogue France’s post, French-Moroccan hijabi influencer Hanan Houachmi shared it to her Instagram Stories and helped it go viral. She tells The National about her first reaction to reading the caption.
“It was a strong feeling of injustice, and at the same time, it really was painful to see how those four simple words were so easy to put under the picture of this woman, when we’ve been waiting and hoping and fantasising that France would at some point say those words for us,” she says.
“To read these words while there are still laws being voted on to keep forbidding Muslim women to actually be a part of our society, and with all of the hatred around the hijab, but then you see this white woman putting a scarf on and all of a sudden those four words are so easy to put out there – it’s offensive, and it was very triggering for me.”
Houachmi points out that Muslim women have long been saying the hijab is a simple piece of fabric, yet the French government have made it a weighty “anti-feminist” symbol. Now, in Vogue France’s easily deleted caption, it was reduced to just that – a simple piece of fabric.
Despite the government’s anti-hijab stance, Houachmi believes that Vogue France can choose to be a platform that promotes more inclusive values. Rather than expecting them to make any outright political comments in support of Muslim women, Houachmi asks why the publication hasn’t been an “ally” by including hijabi models in its campaigns and editorials – after all, Vogue publications across the globe have taken steps towards working with visibly Muslim women.
“We’re French, we’re part of this society and we’re readers of this magazine – they have a big Muslim female audience – yet they don’t cater to us, they keep ignoring us,” she says. “We’re unseen and unheard.”
Addressing Vogue France on Instagram, Houachmi provided examples of other Vogue titles representing hijabi women – from British Vogue’s July 2021 cover featuring pandemic front-line workers such as Anisa Omar, to the November 2021 cover of Vogue Germany, which starred Ikram Abdi Omar. She also mentioned Rawdah Mohamed, who was named fashion editor of the new Vogue Scandinavia last year. Coincidentally, Mohamed commented on Vogue France’s Instagram post stating: “Oh, the irony of it all!”
Muslims also expressed their discontent with the magazine on Twitter, where the double standards implied by the initial caption were called “disgusting”, “frustratingly tone-deaf” and “a slap in the face of every Muslim woman who has faced harassment for wearing the hijab”.
Stylist and fashion commentator Osama Chabbi, who lives in Dubai, said: “Don’t caption your post, ‘yes to the headscarf’ when my mum has been told ‘no to your headscarf’ in several institutions.”
Although the publication quickly changed the caption after receiving backlash, Houachmi believes that the amendment, which made no mention at all of headscarves, reflected poor judgment. “The point I was trying to make was not to censure the headscarf and to erase us ever more,” she says.
It was amended to: "Swipe left for your recap of @JuliaFox & @KanyeWest style journey at the haute couture shows in Paris this week."
Chabbi, however, says the decision to remove reference to the headscarf was the right one. “Until they take a clear educational step in introducing their readers to the hijab, taking a firm stance to be standing with these women, they don’t get the right to talk about the headscarf as a potential ‘fashion trend’," she wrote on Twitter.
Perhaps Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, founder of online platform MuslimGirl, said it best in her Instagram caption: “The fashion industry has a responsibility to say, ‘yes to the headscarf’ when it’s on Muslim women too.”
Vogue France’s Instagram caption fiasco has taken place just days before World Hijab Day, which falls on February 1. And while there is much to celebrate about the increasing inclusion and positive representation of hijabi women in fashion over the past few years, incidents like this take the inclusivity movement backwards, not forwards.