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Image / Editorial

GQ cover with Serena Williams sparks controversy

by Erin Lindsay
13th Nov 2018

GQ magazine has received a mixed response to their latest cover, which features Serena Williams as a Woman of the Year – with the word “woman” in quotation marks.

Image: GQ Magazine

Williams is one of four cover stars to feature on GQ’s “Men (and Women) of the Year” issue – and the only woman. The other cover stars are actors Jonah Hill, Michael B. Jordan and Henry Golding; none of whom’s title appears in quotation marks on the cover.

Williams’ picture sparked an immediate response on social media, with many people outraged at the use of quote marks around the word “woman”. As a woman of colour who is also an athlete, Williams has often been subjected to criticisms about her appearance by the public, and many find the use of quote marks insulting.

The reason

The explanation offered for the use of quote marks was that the cover featured handwriting by designer Virgil Abloh, whose trademark is to use quote marks in his typography. Quote marks regularly appear on Abloh’s designs, on everything from clothing to bottles.

Abloh and Williams are also known to have a close professional relationship, with Williams wearing his custom designs at the US Open this year.

Not enough

However, the explanation was not accepted by many critics of GQ’s cover, who pointed out that Abloh had not used quote marks on any of the men’s cover shots.

Another user compared Williams’ cover with its 2017 equivalent, which featured actress Gal Godot – again, with no quotation marks.

Many social media users conceded that while the use of quotation marks may be Virgil Abloh’s trademark, their use in this context was insensitive and poorly judged.

GQ has not yet commented on the controversy.