The Genteel
April 21, 2021



Anna Wintour, eat your heart out. Marie Claire South Africa has something that the Vogue editor can only dream of - Kate Middleton on its cover. Or, at least, that's what we thought when we got our first glimpse of the magazine's August 2012 issue. 

The Duchess of Cambridge has famously rejected various requests to pose for a cover, and as the old adage goes, we want what we can't have - so why not fake it? The editors of the South African edition of Marie Claire did just that, superimposing an eerily life-like illustration of Middleton on to a model's body.

Kate Middleton Marie Claire South Africa Cover
This lifelike illustration of Kate Middleton the
cover of Marie Claire began a global discussion.

Printing a bogus Duchess has come about through every style editor's unwavering obsession with Kate Middleton. Despite rejecting requests to pose for a cover spot, Middleton graces covers daily, and is no stranger to being photoshopped for various editorials. Last year, Tatler created a Warhol-effect Middleton on its February cover. Grazia admitted to photoshopping the now-mainstream images from the Royal Wedding, by removing her hubby's arm, effectively slimming down her waist. But The New Republic's photoshop job trumped all by starring Middleton with a decaying, browning, rotting smile, underneath the headline, "Something's Rotten: The Last Days of Britain." 

Photoshopping, of course, is par for the course for just about every magazine, especially style publications. The practice has been heavily criticised for being misleading, superficial and perhaps condescending to readers. But Marie Claire's made-up Middleton goes a step further, and ultimately is a blow to the magazine's credibility.

Like Middleton's mock profiles before it, the Marie Claire cover never actually claims to be authentic, even poking fun at the fact that her likeness is not the real thing. As editor Aspasia Karras puts it, the cover was intended to promote a local "fan art tribute," and that the magazine "dress[ed] her up in clothes by South African designers."  

With the Duchess of Cambridge in a design by South African designer, Clive Rundle, the question remains as to why not just use a model instead? A smoothed-over blemish is bush league compared to an entirely bogus, yet freakishly life-like Middleton who gives Madame Tussauds a run for her money. The intention of Marie Claire was clearly to convince readers that the image of Kate was "real" - thus, to increase magazine sales - rather than to offer a tribute to fan art and South African designers. To suggest otherwise is an insult to the perceptiveness of its readers.

If the intent of the magazine was to showcase a fan's artistic tribute to the Duchess, it should have said so from the  start - rather than squelch it out through questionable editorial standards.

What is even stranger about the decision to feature the Duchess of Cambridge in a local design is the widely acknowledged fact that she mostly wears British designer pieces. If the deciding Marie Claire editors really wanted to promote South African fashion, it would have made more sense to recruit celebrities from their own established and impressive pool, such as Minki Visser, Claudia Henkel, Candice Swanepoel or Charlize Theron. To not have done so, seriously weakens the credibility of their claim that the issue was a tribute to South African "fan art."

The illustration also has serious implications for journalistic ethics. As I'm sure many writers would agree, seeing the words, "Fashion's New Royal Icon Wears SA's Best Local Designs" followed by a disclaimer - as if it were an afterthought - "Of course she doesn't. But she should," belittles the prestige of editorial craft and fashion sensibility. To do this suggests that the magazine's editors would rather sell their readers short and just make up content rather than put in the legwork or explore alternatives - which, given the right wit, verve and panache, would make for a spread far more appealing than one that simply features a photoshopped Duchess.

All creepiness aside (Kate's eyes seem to follow you around the room, don't they?), faking the cover betrays readers who have come to trust a publication that otherwise offers, and engages with, sharp insight into fashion culture. If the intent of the magazine was to showcase a fan's artistic tribute to the Duchess, it should have said so from the start - rather than squelch it out through questionable editorial standards.



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