Supermodels Naomi Campbell and Iman Abdulmajid have joined forces with former model agent-turned activist, Bethann Hardison in a Diversity Coalition to launch their campaign against fashion designers and casting agents in the fashion industry, who are reported to have consistently omitted to use models of color on their International runways, resulting in what the Coalition suggest is racism.
The Coalition draws attention to the fact that more and more fashion houses and casting agents are resorting to tokenism at best, racism at worst, on their International runways, a fact that has very clearly been laid out in a series of letters that the Coalition sent out to the fashion councils of New York, London, Paris and Milan.
Naomi Campbell has told the press that there is now more racism in the fashion industry than there was when she began in the mid 1980s, 27 years ago. In a passionate interview with Channel 4 News, Ms Campbell said that all the Coalition is asking for is that the casting directors and fashion designers base their choice of models on talent and beauty, not on skin color, adding that it has become very apparent that this is exactly what the industry has not been doing, based on the ratio of models of color that were booked for the last show season. According to the Coalition’s findings, the fashion industry’s lack of diversity was clear. At last season’s New York Fashion Week, 9.1 percent of models were of Asian descent, 6 percent were black, only 2 percent were Latina, while 82.7 percent of the models were white. They also found that 13 of the shows contained no models of color at all.
Seemingly on a trail for the Diversity Coalition campaign, Ms Campbell also spoke to Sky News and mentioned how she had read a few articles about models and diversity, which left her feeling very disappointed not at just the low figures revealed in the use of models of colour, but on what casting directors and designers thought about booking models of colour. She said that this sort of thing should not be happening in 2013.
You can watch one of her interviews here:
Ms Campbell stipulated that the Coalition is not accusing the fashion industry of being racist; it is the actual act of not choosing models of color that the Coalition finds racist.
On Bethann Hardison’s Balance Diversity blog, Hardison had posted a powerful message that read:
“Eyes are on an industry that season after season watches fashion design houses consistently use one or no models of color. No matter the intention, the result is racism. Not accepting another based on the color of their skin is clearly beyond “aesthetic” when it is consistent with the designer’s brand. Whether it’s the decision of the designer, stylist or casting director, that decision to use basically all white models, reveals a trait that is unbecoming to modern society. It can no longer be accepted, nor confused by the use of the Asian model.”
The message, which went out to the four key International fashion capital’s councils of New York, London, Paris and Milan, each contained an appendage that read: “As of last season, below are the fashion houses guilty of this racist act,” to which was added the capital city’s fashion shows that featured no models of color.
As the list mentioned in Hardison’s letters are voluminous, the list below includes some more commonly known, but not all of the designers caught up in the racism row:
New York: Calvin Klein, Diesel Black Gold, Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler, Victoria Beckham and Perry Ellis;
London: JW Anderson, Mario Schwab, Moschino, Mulberry, Temperley London, Alexander McQueen and Hardy Amies;
Paris: Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Carven, Chanel, Comme des Garçons, Hermès, Lanvin, Louis Vuitton, Mugler, Nina Ricci, Paco Rabanne, Rochas, Saint Laurent, Valentino and Yohji Yamamoto;
Milan: Alberta Ferretti, Botega Veneta, Burberry Prorsum, Diesel Black Gold, Emporio Armani, Ermenegildo Zegna, Fendi, Giorgio Armani, Gian Franco Ferre, Iceburg, Jil Sander, Just Cavalli, Moschino, Marni, Prada, Roberto Cavalli, Salvatore Ferragamo, Trussardi and Versace.
In her blog entitled Colourism and the Catwalk: A Closer Look at Bethann Hardison’s Anti-racism Campaign in the Fashion World, the author, Emily Yakashiro suggested that, “Asian models were cast as the preferred models of colour over black women by designers who are especially prejudiced against the use of models of colour.” As a woman of Far East Asian descent, she is referring to women of her Diaspora, as opposed to models of Indian descent, which is also referred to as Asian in Britain. She went on to argue that, “There is a degree of whiteness present that comforts the colourist eye at first glance… ‘Asian’ in a model seems to have become a sinister code for ‘as close to white as we can get and still hire a model of colour.’”
Yahashiro highlighted one Asian model that appeared to have been selected often as the token model to which she referred. The model’s name is Soo Joo Park and Yahashiro suggests that this model was selected because her hair had been dyed blonde, bringing her closer to the “aesthetic” to which Hardison had referred.
Supermodel and businesswoman Iman is with Campbell and Hardison on the issue of the underrepresentation of models of color across the fashion and beauty industry and that it is something that must be properly addressed. However, the wife of musician Davie Bowie went further to suggest that it also highlights a greater issue that what is shown in the media is by no means reflective of the society in which we exist. Iman told CNN:
“The absence of people of color on the runways and photography reinforces to our young girls that they’re not beautiful enough, that they’re not acceptable enough. The diversity that we live in, the world that we live in, is not what is shown on the runway. That to me is the concern. It’s a bigger issue at large than just about runway and models.”
Campbell also told CNN how the runways are getting whiter. She said:
“When I started modelling in ’86 there was Asians, blacks, whites, Indians, Chinese. It was very diverse. It’s not like that today. It’s heartbreaking to me that we’re in 2013 and we’re sitting here talking about this. But it has to be done and people need to know.”
CNN talked to Carol White, Campbell’s manager of 17 years, who confirmed that designers tend to pick more white models over models of color for their fashion shows. She said:
“I think clients have this perception that black girls do not sell products, which goes way back to the 50’s. I think it’s engrained in every magazine editor. There are more products for blonde and blue-eyed girls. Everything is geared to that.”
The booker said that she has only 13 black models on her books, out of a staggering 300 models. She said that the black models had to be “stunningly beautiful [and] have an incredible body… whereas white girls can be more quirky-looking.”
Another black model, Nadja, said that while she feels fortunate to acquire work, very often at fashion shows, there are hairstylists that do not know how to do black hair and makeup artists that do not know what to do with black skin. She also said that she often finds herself falling into the tokenism bracket as the only black girl in the show.
For all the former runway and beauty models, hailing from the same era as Bethann, Iman and Naomi, it appears that nothing has changed today. In fact, it seems to have grown progressively worse. By virtue of the fact that even today, Nadja is still echoing the words of many of these supermodels’ counterparts of diversity from two to three decades ago, highlights that there is a clear and present necessity for the fashion industry to admit that yes, there is indeed a problem and that the areas of the fashion industry that have been found guilty of racism need to bring themselves out of the dark ages and into the 21st Century, to represent itself to a market that is properly reflective of the world at large.
Written by: Brucella Newman