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Two of the covers of the debut edition of Vogue Hong Kong, featuring Chinese model Fei Fei Sun (left) and Sun with Gigi Hadid.

Instagram backlash over first Vogue Hong Kong cover featuring Gigi Hadid, accused in China of racism

  • Magazine posted first cover online, featuring Chinese model Fei Fei Sun and Hadid, but took down image of the latter after a flood of negative comments
  • Picturing Sun in Chanel haute couture may also put sister publication Vogue China’s nose out of joint; its April cover has Sun in a very similar Chanel outfit

Vogue Hong Kong debuted its much-awaited first cover on Instagram on March 1. The magazine hired British photographer Nick Knight to shoot American model Gigi Hadid and Chinese model Fei Fei Sun.

Clad in Chanel haute couture, the models grace three different covers: on one of them they appear together, while on the other two they pose on their own.

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The choice of Hadid, who in 2017 was accused of racism in China for posting a video of herself screwing up her eyes to mimic the Buddha, was not well received on Instagram.

A flurry of negative comments led the magazine to take down the cover featuring Hadid, who is pictured standing against a futuristic silver background, from its Instagram account.

The Instagram post, since deleted, of the Vogue Hong Kong debut cover featuring model Gigi Hadid, who was accused in China of racism for a video post in 2017 of her screwing up her eyes to mimic the Buddha. Photo: courtesy of Instagram

Reaction on Instagram to Vogue Hong Kong’s post

Deleted comments on the debut Vogue Hong Kong covers posted on Instagram. Commenter sashapaulov2484 writes: I want to ask, you have to explain, how are Gigi & Fei related to Hong Kong? Why did you delete your Gigi cover suddenly? So many negative comments but no one from Vogue HK has commented so far. Photo: courtesy of Instagram
A now deleted comment on Instagram about the Vogue Hong Kong cover of Gigi Hadid posted on March 1 but later taken down by the magazine. Photo: courtesy of Instagram
More reaction to the posting on Instagram of the covers of the launch edition of Vogue Hong Kong magazine. The comments were later deleted. Photo: courtesy of Instagram

In an earlier interview with fashion trade publication WWD, Desiree Au, publisher of Vogue Hong Kong, was asked about the possibility of creating controversy with her choice of Hadid for the cover. “What happens in Hong Kong is completely independent than other places in the world,” she was quoted as saying.


Instagram user urjunlin responded: “Are you f***ing kidding me, don’t you forget the major [sic] of your readers are ASIANS!!!”

While public reactions to Fei Fei Sun’s cover were more positive, her cover seems to have caused a mini controversy within Condé Nast International.

Chinese model Fei Fei Sun wears Chanel haute couture on the covers of Vogue China's April edition (left) and Vogue Hong Kong's March edition. Photo: courtesy of Instagram

Sun also graces the three covers of the April issue of Vogue China, once again clad in Chanel haute couture. One of the outfits is strikingly similar to the one she wears on her Vogue Hong Kong solo cover.

Angelica Cheung, editor-in-chief of Vogue China, posted her three covers 48 hours before the unveiling of the Vogue Hong Kong covers.

While Hong Kong and China are different markets and the two magazines operate separately, it’s an unfortunate coincidence, which could have been avoided had Condé Nast International helped the two publications coordinate the shoots.

Users of Chinese microblogging platform Weibo also weighed in on Vogue Hong Kong’s choice of cover models  

This was one Weibo user's response to the posting of the Vogue Hong Kong covers. Photo: courtesy of Weibo
This Weibo user wrote: The launch of Vogue Hong Kong, aside from Fei on the cover, yet another cover model who hates the Chinese and is racist towards Asians. The publisher's response: China has its own views towards Gigi but Hong Kong is different … OK, Vogue Hong Kong, shut up and get out! Photo: courtesy of Weibo
This Weibo user responded to the posting of the Vogue Hong Kong covers by saying: Disappointed that the cover is not Maggie Cheung. Fei is fine but Gigi … puke!!! Photo: courtesy of Weibo

The Post has reached out to Au and Condé Nast International for comment.


A similar issue arose in 2016 when the then editor-in-chief of Vogue UK, Alexandra Shulman, found out that pop star Rihanna would be on the cover of the US edition of Vogue and moved up the release of her own Rihanna cover by a month, stealing the exclusive from the American publication, whose editor-in-chief is Anna Wintour.

Shulman announced her departure from Vogue UK six months later, and was succeeded by Edward Enninful.

The April 2016 cover of Vogue UK featuring pop star Rihanna. The cover shot was originally intended for the magazine's May 2016 edition.
The April 2016 cover of Vogue US featuring pop star Rihanna.

In recent months Condé Nast International has been mired in controversy. In November 2018 Olga Sushko, the editor-in-chief of Vogue Ukraine, was let go for plagiarism and for using ghostwriters, while just last month Donata Meirelles, the fashion director of Vogue Brazil, left the publication after pictures of a slavery-themed birthday party she had hosted resurfaced online.

Vogue Brazil, Vogue Hong Kong and Vogue Ukraine are all published under licensing agreements by Condé Nast International, which is said to be exploring rising markets such as Singapore for possible upcoming launches of Vogue, its flagship title.