Here’s something that most people don’t know: Off-White designer and Louis Vuitton men’s artistic director Virgil Abloh often visually expresses himself through quotation marks. The knowledge of this fact would have saved GQ quite the headache after its cover of Serena Williams, which featured the phrase “‘Woman’ Of The Year” — “Woman” being in quotation marks, as it was a collaboration with Abloh — sent the internet into an uproar.
@GQMagazine Please explain to me why GQ Magazine’s Editorial Team felt that quote marks were necessary on the Serena Williams’ Woman of the Year Cover. I Really Really Need to Know. I’m Expecting an Answer😡🙄🤷🏽♀️🤔👎🏾👎🏾👎🏾👎🏾👎🏾 pic.twitter.com/qGNPNJI4Rq
— Y•S•A•N•N•E (@YsanneBueno) November 13, 2018
GQ‘s December cover features the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion posing, hands on hips, in a black Alix turtleneck bodysuit and Chanel chain belt. It would have been a remarkable cover if not for the unfortunately placed quotes. Most people walking by the issue on newsstands or in line at Barnes & Noble — and many people on Twitter, as it turns out — would not necessarily know Abloh’s design signature, and would be confused to see the word “woman” written in such a way.
Though GQ has not yet issued an official statement on their decision, in a Twitter thread, research manager for GQ Mick Rouse commented on the backlash, writing:
Because it was handwritten by Virgil Abloh of Off-White, who has styled everything in quotation marks as of late (see Serena's US Open apparel that he designed)
— Mick Rouse (@mickrouse) November 12, 2018
This was certainly an odd oversight on GQ’s part, considering how many people their covers reach (and how many of them are actually familiar with Abloh’s work). Still, it’s (most certainly) clear on how they arrived at this decision: Abloh’s collaboration with Williams for Nike was titled “Queen,” quotes included, and her U.S. Open dress this year was printed with the words “LOGO” on the left shoulder and “SERENA” on the left sleeve.
The decision to stylize the word “woman” in quotation marks would have been a misguided call either way, but it’s an especially fraught error considering that last year, in a letter on Reddit, Williams wrote about being labeled masculine.
“I’ve been called man because I appeared outwardly strong… It has been said I don’t belong in women’s sports — that I belong in men’s — because I look stronger than many other women do. (No, I just work hard and I was born with this badass body and proud of it.)”
One of four covers for GQ’s “Man of the Year” issue — the other three are Michael B. Jordan, Henry Golding, and Jonah Hill — Williams was dubbed “The Champion” by the magazine. The magazine started honoring women as part of its Man of the Year awards in 2003, beginning with Angelina Jolie.