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108
Interview
POWERLIST 2010
The man
who sold-out
black Vogue
When Sola Oyebade, CEO of Mahogany Models, was told an all-black
edition of the fashion bible would flop, he launched a marketing
campaign that made it a bestseller. Adenike Adenitire hears how
he July 2008 issue of Vogue Italia was predicted to be the says. First task was to put together a mailing list, which he did by
T
worst selling in the magazine’s history, despite it being combining contacts from his work database with those he had on
shot by famed photographer Steve Meisel, and featuring MySpace and Facebook. Then he invested in sending out a mass of
several of the fashion world’s biggest names. texts via a messaging service. “By the time we were done we had
The reason practically no-one was expected to buy it was that sent out something like 15,000 text messages,” he remembers.
it was an “all-black issue”, graced by the presence of models such It was important to ensure the message was constructed in the
as Naomi Campbell, Iman, Tyra Banks, Liya Kebede, Jourdan Dunn right way. “I couldn’t afford for people to read it and forget about
and Alek Wek. Its failure was expected to affirm the notion, long it,” he says. He eventually came up with wording along the lines of
held in fashion circles, that black models did not sell magazines. For “Italian Vogue: They expect it to be the worst selling issue ever. Go
years, this had been the reason, or perhaps more accurately, the out and buy it and pass this message on.”
excuse, given for the sparcity of models of colour on the catwalks Almost anyone who was not hiding under a rock during this
and on the covers of titles such as Vogue. But what not many people period can testify that they got at least one such text. “Towards the
realised was that actually no statistics or hard facts had ever been end of the campaign people were telling me they got six or seven,”
produced to back up this theory. says Oyebade. “It must have been a case of people getting the text
The naysayers, however, were to be proved spectacularly and then resending to everyone in their phonebook. In the space of
wrong, because the issue – which its editor, Franca Sozzani, says 48 hours, this thing had literally gone around the world.”
was influenced by the positive reaction of people to the preliminary He followed up with emails, this time enclosing more details
stages of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign – was to become about the edition, including the dismissive quotes made by the
one of Italian Vogue’s most successful ever. Sola Oyebade was to publishers, and the names of the black models who were to be
see to that, and in the process help demonstrate how immense the featured in the magazine. For more information, he directed people
power of a community can be when it decides to unite for a cause. to a special Facebook page he had set up. It attracted 15,000 friends.
This remarkable story begins back in spring 2008, when the media “Some of the comments left by people on the Facebook page
first contacted Oyebade, founder and CEO of UK-based agency were accusing me of being paid by Italian Vogue,” he expresses.
Mahogany Models Management and an active campaigner against “Others were saying it was a publicity stunt, and I should be
racism in the fashion industry, to get his thoughts on the black ashamed of myself. But I didn’t care as all the time it was attracting
issue of Italian Vogue. “They wanted my views on the magazine’s lots of publicity.”
publishers, Conde Nast, saying this was going to be their worst- By then the campaign was gaining momentum, which was
selling edition of Vogue ever,” he recalls. enhanced by Oyebade’s distribution of the email to blogs, websites
“I remember getting off the phone and speaking to some and mainstream press. “Even though a lot of the people who went
members of my staff about it. I said: ‘Listen, if this does become the on to report on it were tearing me to pieces, it was fantastic PR, and
worst-selling issue, we are going to be in big trouble’.” the message was getting out there,” he laughs.
Oyebade realised that a poor reception for the magazine would The magazine would hit the streets in late June and the next
become “hard evidence that black does not sell”, and would almost stage of Oyebade’s campaign took things to another level. He had
certainly close the doors on any argument to the contrary. He contact details for the four main distributors in the UK, which he
decided to organise a campaign to ensure this did not happen. “My subsequently posted on the Facebook page, complete with names,
initial thought was, ‘How can I get the message out there?’,” he direct phone numbers, website and email addresses.
PowerList10_IS02_P108-109.indd 1 11/09/2009 21:03
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