In light of this we decided to take a look at some of the most controversial fashion magazine covers of recent times. Although these images have raised a few eyebrows, the formula itself is neither shocking nor surprising. Present an image either about sex or offending any particular group (religion, race, and animal rights are among the most common) and you’ve got yourself a headline worthy cover. Of course certain publications and people are prone to bringing controversy to whatever they do, including photographer Terry Richardson, proving why he’s earnt himself the “controversial” tag. Other repeat offenders include publications Purple Magazine, V Magazine, and Candy, and celebrities Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, and Kim Kardashian.
Vogue US April 2008
American Vogue thought they were breaking new ground when the magazine decided to feature NBA star Lebron James as the first black man on its illustrious cover. Coupling him with supermodel Gisele Bundchen, the idea was to have LeBron doing what he does best – playing basketball – while holding the model. Incidentally the cover imagery drew close comparisons to images of a snarling King Kong holding a club and clutching a fair maiden, branding the magazine as racially insensitive. James dismissed the controversy, revealing he was pleased with the cover and was “just showing a little emotion.”
Purple Magazine Spring 2010
The combination of Lindsay Lohan and Terry Richardson is never going to end appropriately, but add in Purple Magazine‘s Oliver Zahm and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. That’s exactly what happened when at the height of Lohan’s media-frenzy she appeared on the cover of Purple imitating Jesus Christ. Donning a crown of thorns and a white robe, the actress posed with outstretched arms, suggestive of the crucifixion she was receiving in the media at the time.
W Magazine November 2010
When Kim covered W Magazine‘s annual Art issue, not only was it a shock because of her lack of ties to the art world, but it was also her lack of clothes that got her noticed. Collage artist Barbara Kruger provided the well-placed and tongue-in-cheek text that read “It’s all about me, I mean you, I mean me.” while inside the magazine Kim appeared fully nude wearing only silver body paint from the neck down. The lack of an art context may have been lost on some, but as Kim’s entry into the edgier fashion world, this issue was a big success.
Candy Winter 2010-2011
Touted as the “first fashion magazine ever completely dedicated to celebrating transvestism, transexuality, cross dressing and androgyny, in all its manifestations,” Candy got noticed when it featured James Franco dressed in drag for the cover of its sophomore issue. Shot by Terry Richardson, the image garnered lots of attention, cementing Franco as a maverick actor/performer/artist and helped to integrate the LGBT community within a wider audience.
Vogue Hommes Japan September 2011
Lady Gaga’s double cover for Vogue Hommes Japan was controversial for two reasons – firstly, it introduced the world to her male alter ego Jo Calderone, and secondly, it premiered Gaga’s short-lived obsession for wearing raw meat. Captioned “The naked truth,” it laid heavy on the puns when it featured the singer showing off her body in a meat bikini, while making reference to women as pieces of meat. Unsurprisingly the images were shot by photographer Terry Richardson. The issue outraged animal rights groups, but was quickly outdone by Gaga herself when she wore a full meat dress to the MTV Video Music Awards the next month.
Dossier Issue 7 2011
When androgynous model Andrej Pejic appeared on Dossier magazine with his white shirt unbuttoned it caused a furore, not because of the male model’s exposed chest, but because it was paired with his feminine face and hair pinned in rollers. Chain bookstores across America asked the magazine to cover the issue with opaque poly bags, as the gender bending image was deemed inappropriate and apparently made people uncomfortable.
Dazed and Confused September 2012
No stranger to controversy, rapper Azealia Banks’ cover for Dazed and Confused in which she’s blowing up a bright pink condom, was banned from seven countries upon its release. Headlined with “Azealia Banks Blows Up,” the cheeky cover was particularly suited to the feisty rapper, whose breakout single “212” contained much more offensive content.
V Magazine Issue 82 2013
Shot by Mario Testino, V‘s cover featuring Kate Moss and Rihanna in various states of undress, came out with two varying covers – one featuring a naked Rihanna with a lingerie-clad Moss, while the other had the two reverse roles with Kate in the buff. The issue was an instant talking point not only because it featured Rihanna, or Kate, or was shot by Mario Testino, or because they were nude, but the combination of all these elements and the suggestive hypersexual nature of the shoot made for one memorable issue.
V Magazine Issue 83 2013
While Miley getting nude and lewd is old news now, this cover for V Magazine was the one that kickstarted the trend and caused the original scandal. Titled “The Emancipation of Miley,” the cover featured the singer provocatively pulling up her Y-fronts while inside snaps showed her covering her breasts and exposing her derriere. Her infamous “Wrecking Ball” video followed soon after, and she’s since gone on to do a ton of nude and/or topless shoots. These days it’s more of a surprise to see her with clothes on than off, but the real shock is that this came out less than one year ago, showing just how far she’s come in that time.
Candy Winter 2013-2014
Loving to one up what’s been done before, even if it was done by herself, Lady Gaga covered Candy‘s most recent issue. Rather than posing nude, the singer wore a fur coat while exposing one breast and her nether regions, all while dressing up in reference to surrealist painter Salvador Dali. The images caused quite a stir, yet somehow the tasteful manner and context of the magazine diluted the shock factor a little. A secondary cover for the issue also featured Marilyn Manson wearing a dress.