My first reaction to this cover was, “Wait, didn’t Gigi Hadid and Zayn One Direction break up? Is shooting a Vogue cover going to turn into the next Winona Forever tattoo curse?” But I guess they’re still together, so there goes that theory. As covers go… I mean, I don’t personally find either of them interesting, much less buy into all the simpering “Gigi & Zayn Are TOTAL #CoupleGoals on Vogue” stuff. But Gigi sells. She must: This is her third U.S. Vogue cover in a 12-month span. She had it exactly a year ago, and then she was in the center of the throng in the March “Women Rule” issue — the same month she fronted the first-ever Vogue Arabia. She also had at least one international Vogue cover in that time.

I give her credit for standing out in a very busy, crowded shot, and I like that she’s twitching her lips into an amused smile while Zayn inhales her cheek skin, as if to say, “Yeah, he’s hot for me, and if I’m bored later I might allow it.” Turn her head ever so slightly and have her gaze at him, and suddenly it’s about him — the way he entices her, the way he brings her away from the camera — but this is very much on her own terms. It’s so much more about her than him, in fact, that he could be any old person.

The cover story is unusual though. It’s not a profile. It’s more of a style story? The spread is about them and Gigi’s brother wearing clothes without regard as to whether they were designed for men or women; it’s a glorified trend piece, about how clothing designers are starting to blur those boundaries. Which is fine. Gigi and Zayn’s participation amounts to this one boring exchange about the time he borrowed one of her t-shirts:

“I shop in your closet all the time, don’t I?” […] “Yeah, but same,” replies Malik, 24. “What was that T-shirt I borrowed the other day?… I like that shirt. And if it’s tight on me, so what? It doesn’t matter if it was made for a girl.” Hadid nods vigorously. “Totally. It’s not about gender. It’s about, like, shapes. And what feels good on you that day. And anyway, it’s fun to experiment. . . .”

REVOLUTIONARY. That’s fine, obviously. Wear whoever’s clothes you want. But the headline — the uber-clickbaity headline — is, “Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik Are Part of a New Generation Embracing Gender Fluidity.” And to me, that isn’t the same thing as what they said. Technically, I suppose, it is, but strictly in a clothing sense. Tell me if I’m wrong, please, but in my mind: “Embracing gender fluidity” means something much bigger and realer than stealing a shirt from your girlfriend. Gender fluidity is something people are learning about and grappling with in a world where many, many areas don’t want to acknowledge or support that. It’s more than just borrowing clothes from your boyfriend, or girlfriend, and to reduce it to that is tacky at best.

Vogue tries to mitigate that:

For these millennials, at least, descriptives like boy or girl rank pretty low on the list of important qualities—and the way they dress reflects that.

Again, here’s the thing: That seems like taking a big life deal, and using it for a peg on which to hang a juicy headline and some pictures of Gigi Hadid’s brother sitting on a tire swing in a see-through lace tank top (which he does). I have never once gotten the impression, from ANYTHING they have said or done, that Gigi and Zayn don’t identify with their commonly perceived gender, or that they feel they are gender fluid beyond the chance to play dress-up in “interchangeable tracksuits.” I’m very willing to dismount my high horse if my perception is too defensive — it’s very easy for me to get riled up swiftly, and leave my reading comprehension at the door — but my first reaction was that Vogue is so eager to dip a toe in buzzworthy waters that it drew careless parallels, and the result is a piece that minimizes a very real thing even if it meant well in the process. Sometimes it’s when Vogue breaks a sweat trying not to be a dinosaur that it looks the most like one.

*An update: Fashionista’s Akosua Johnson wrote an excellent piece about this issue, and reached out to Vogue for comment. Vogue issued an apology and acknowledged that they “missed the mark.”

[Photo: Vogue]