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A Vogue cover with Ukraine’s First Lady Zelenska garners criticism

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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Vogue has long been a magazine to feature political first ladies and leaders. American Vogue covers, by example, have featured most of its first families, from Dr Jill Biden and Michelle Obama to the debut of its first photographed political spouse in 1929, Lou Henry Hoover, the wife of then president Henry Hoover. Controversially, Melania Trump was one of only two notable first wives not featured on a Vogue cover.

First ladies tend not to generate too much of a kerfuffle for Vogue parent Conde Nast, however a cover story released last week featuring Ukraine first lady Olena Zelenska, in a digital spread lensed by celebrity photographer Annie Liebovitz, has attracted equal praise as it has criticism.

In one image Mrs Zelenska is photographed on the marble steps of Kyiv’s presidential palace. In another she holding hands with her husband. Elsewhere she is photographed at an airport, amongst soldiers. While the Ukraine is currently battling a war after being invaded by Russia last February, criticism of posing for a fashion magazine that is steeped in luxury and elitism, has felt out of touch with current circumstances. Others commented it was a vanity project.

An opportunity to speak about Ukraine

Mrs Zelenska defended the article, stating in an interview with the BBC: “I’m using every opportunity to speak about Ukraine. Millions read Vogue and speaking to them directly was my duty. And that was an interesting experience. In peaceful life, I'm not used to attention. Everyone is fighting on a front line and it's work and I have to do that work.”

The editorial refrains from any overt styling, suggesting a tacit understanding that a swathe of luxury gowns and accessories would be inappropriately received, given that 12 million Ukranians have been forced to flee their homes and the death toll is nearing 15,000. Although casualty reporting has been dubious on both sides of the war.

The Ukranian president has been supremely adept at keeping Ukraine in the global headlines, regularly speaking over Zoom to foreign leaders and broadcasting to the world, even speaking to Balenciaga creative director Demna after a t-shirt collaboration was launched in a fundraising campaign last week. Furthermore, Mr Zelensky and his wife are no strangers to media, having founded the country's publicly-held television entertainment production company Kvartal 95 Studio in 2003.

Were Mrs Zelenska to have been featured on the cover of Wall Street Journal magazine, Time or any reputable political publication, public sentiment may have been less dividing. Perhaps readers would do well to be open-minded to fashion as a reflection of current times and as such perfectly adept at covering more that just the glossy looks seen on the runway.

Conde Nast
Olena Zelenska