American Vogue has unveiled its iconic September issue, which is edited and fronted by Beyoncé, who hired the first black photographer to shoot the cover in the magazine’s 126-year history.
While rumours circulated earlier this month that the singer had been given “unprecedented control” of the issue and all of its content, the magazine describes the issue as a “collaborative effort”.
Her photoshoot is accompanied by an in-depth interview by Clover Hope in which Knowles opens up about body image, pregnancy and the experience of researching her ancestral connections to slavery.
23-year-old photographer Tyler Mitchell was put forward for the job of shooting the cover by Condé Nast’s creative director Raul Martinez, who became a fan of Mitchell’s work after he was chosen to produce a digital cover featuring gun control activists for Teen Vogue.
After pitching him to Knowles, who instantly approved of the suggestion and its historical implications, he was given the prestigious job.
Speaking to The Business of Fashion, Mitchell revealed that working with Knowles was both challenging and enriching.
“[Knowles] really pushes you to the creative limit,” he said.
“A lot of the research was very cultural as well. How do we tie in references from the diaspora and what it means to be African American?”
In the photographs, the singer opts for minimal makeup to champion natural beauty, and is pictured wearing a decadent floral headdress by Rebel Rebel and a Gucci gown on one of the two covers.
For the second cover, she is pictured outside wearing a tiered red, green and yellow-striped gown and corset by Alexander McQueen.
‘Black people did not sell’
In the accompanying interview, Knowles recalls how she was told early on in her career that she would struggle to make it onto magazine covers because “black people did not sell”.
“Clearly that has been proven a myth,” she tells Vogue.
“Not only is an African American on the cover of the most important month for Vogue, this is the first ever Vogue cover shot by an African American photographer.”
The singer also opens up about the experience of researching her lineage, revealing how she traced her ancestry back to a slave owner who had fallen in love with a slave.
“I had to process that revelation over time,” she said.