As a Fashion Stylist, I have participated in many fashion shows and photo shoots, studying the history of my craft enables me to go back and learn from the “Fashion Gods” of our time in order to capture the true essence of fashion. In doing so, I have noticed a decrease in booking models of all ethnic groups for publications, print ads and runway. Which made me asked the question, “Where are they now?” Growing up in the late 80’s as a young black girl my then idol was none other than Beverly Johnson who was the first African- American to grace the cover of Vogue magazine back in 1974 blazing the trail for other black models to follow in her footsteps.
Which ushered in a new wave of black beauties like Iman, Beverly Peele, Naomi Sims, Veronica Webb, Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks just to name a few. But somehow in most recent years we have been replaced by what has been labeled in society as America’s apple pie girl-girl next door “Blue-eyed beauty,” Why??? It has been stated by a few casting agents that the true reason as to why ethnic models are not hired is due to the fit and/or walk of the model. However, there are some designers who admit to not booking models of color, based on their persona, claiming that ethnic models could possibly distract potential buyers from focusing on the garments preferably paying more attention on their looks. Doesn’t the industry know that blacks make up one of the fastest growing “buying power” minority groups to increase the state of our economy?
Still no one is willing to play the blame game and mention that this is a race issue no matter how you slice it. Naomi Campbell who is notably one of the world’s most famous and powerful supermodels of our time was once quoted as stating, “people, in the panic of recession, don’t dare to put a girl of color in their campaign, nor of any other race, it’s a shame and it’s very sad!” Vogue Italia made history recently, featuring all blacks models to grace the pages of their magazine after fashion critics stated that in the past few years there has been a complete white-wash in publications and on the runway.
Campbell, who of lately has not been invited to do Fashion Week agrees with counterpart male Supermodel, Tyson Beckford that there are “No blacks on the catwalk.” Designers are simply not catering to African Americans anymore. Where there use to be more there are little to none.
In a quest to change the game, Music and Fashion mogul, Sean “Puffy” Combs, took a stand on February, 11, 2008 booking an all black cast of male models for his “Fall” showing during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
Combs, stated that he wanted to show the world that indeed black is beautiful! There are others who have contributed to the cause like Kimora Lee Simmons who’s known for hiring Asians, Blacks and Latinos for all of Baby Phat, Phat Farm and KLS Fashions Print and Runway shows. But the true “Trailblazer” would go to Bethann Hardison, legendary former model and now reputable modeling agent. Hardison began this journey back in 2007, where she held forums to increase the awareness on the subject matter of the departure of blacks on the runway.
Bethann has now partnered with Designer and current President of (CFDA) Council Fashion Designers of America, Diane Von Furstenberg to encourage designers to display a more diverse group in fashion shows to come. While there is no significant change, there is a slight difference in who’s being hired for major shows. The new generation is embraced by the likes of Chanel Iman Robinson, who is one of the most sought after, “in demand” black models of our time. After much research, I can only conclude that in time this topic will evoke a movement in the way we do things in the industry. Ultimately, it is up to everyone to support the idea of change-without it, the problem of race will continue to plague our fashion community.