I feel like there are two separate things about this cover. 1) The quality of the photo itself, and 2) WHY this photo.
Let’s address them one at a time.
1) It’s Gigi Hadid’s first Vogue cover, and she’s certainly at least connecting with the camera. It’s accomplished. I want to mention, too, that some of the photos inside are fabulous. They are visually arresting as a fashion spread, especially the one in which they’re both leaping into the air on almost the same line. But as a cover, this enterprise comes across like something bigger fell through and so an inside story got elevated to the front. I don’t love the framing here, particularly; it renders Gigi a bit amorphous in that wetsuit-esque thing (I feel for some reason like I should be able to see the separation of her legs; it looks better in the plain uncrossed version where you do see that she’s actually in a dress), and it’s also weird to have her holding a javelin in a photo that crops out the actual javelin. It could be anything: a pole, an oar, a bō. I get that WHAT she is holding is beside the point, probably, but… well, that brings us to point two.
2) What is the point of this, exactly? Is it an Olympics issue? Or is it just a tenuous hook for giving Gigi Hadid a cover, to capitalize on her renown and popularity among The Youngs? But does Gigi Hadid really need a hook, given that she’s one of the most prominent models in her age group, and this is the most prominent fashion magazine? If you read the profile, it’s a meandering, strange affair, managing to be about both them and neither of them; it winds around to him a little and her a lot, scratching his surface, highlighting really boring conversations they had about some restaurant and its food bowls. It even opens by owning its own underwhelming premise:
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that Gigi Hadid, the model who may be the biggest face in fashion right now, can’t possibly have much in common with an Olympic decathlete, except for the obvious, given that Ashton Eaton is poised to be the face of the 2016 games in Brazil.
To me, that says, “I know, I KNOW, this is the most tenuous connection EVER.” (They proceed to tie them together thusly: Ashton is a decathlete; Gigi’s best friend is Kendall, daughter of one of America’s most famous decathletes. Also, they have both lived in Santa Barbara. Sigh.)
All of which brings me to my main question: If the tie-in here was going to be about the Olympics, why couldn’t it just be athletes on the cover? Or female athletes with a male model? I understand that it’s hard to know exactly who will be on the Olympic team (and that there are no male models on Gigi’s level), given that trials hadn’t happened at the time they likely shot this. Ashton Eaton, though still a gamble given that he could’ve gotten hurt, was close to a sure thing and made for easy planning. But you know who else was, assuming you didn’t want to default to Serena Williams? Simone Biles, on the gymnastics team. Missy Franklin, the swimmer. Allyson Felix, the runner. All of them were virtual locks to be heading to Rio. A male athlete on there with them is fine; it’s just so outmoded (and thus, VERY Vogue) that the approach here was Super Accomplished Male Professional Athlete Poses With Lady Arm Candy. If the concern was which women would make it, they could’ve used eight or nine of the gymnasts in a piece about their group dynamic, knowing that five of them plus two alternates would — by press time — be announced as on the team. There were lots of ways to problem-solve this.
In sum, Gigi Hadid could’ve had a cover anytime. And it could’ve been all about her, without needing this bizarre crutch of a detour through Ashton Eaton’s training and whether he eats a normal amount of food (Gigi’s question, in fairness) and whether she is a natural at any kind of sports, because, hey, the Olympics are coming. Gigi Hadid does not need this dude or any dude or the Olympics to give her a leg up onto Vogue at this point, and Ashton Eaton does not need to be Vogue’s only face(s) of the Games. It just feels like Vogue’s steps forward with cover subjects are too often followed by leaps backward, and this one could have been better planned to celebrate the achievements of the women who worked every bit as hard as Ashton Eaton has to go to the Olympics.