Is Fashion Stepping Out of its Racist Ways?

As Rihanna becomes the first black woman to represent Dior in the Secret Garden campaign, as Indian designer Ashish makes history using black models only for his SS15 catwalk, and as Jourdan Dunn is the first solo black model to appear on British Vogue cover in 12 years, a radical change can be seen occurring in the fashion industry.

Let’s take a look back to a couple of years ago, though…

The same Jourdan Dunn was ranting about catwalks that had just one black model, criticising designers and casting directors for hiring singular black models to fulfil the ‘racist criteria’.

“I don’t know why people applaud designers for having just one ethnic model. It’s not like only one type of woman loves fashion”, she stated in an interview. She explained that she has been cancelled last minute from castings because of her skin tone, thing that happens, according to the world known Londoner, very often.

Her fellow American model Chanel Iman has said to have experienced the same: when asked whether her race was a true issue in the industry, she replied “Yeah, most definitely. A few times I got excused by designers who told me ‘we already found one black girl. We don’t need you anymore.’ I felt very discouraged. When someone tells you, ‘we don’t want you because we already have one of your kind’, it’s really sad.”

Another well known model, Anais Mali, was rejected from a major editorial such as Vogue for being black and too short, when she is as tall as Cara Delevingne.

Once again, “this is Paris – black girls don’t work here”, the agencies would tell her.

It frequently happened that these three black beauties were turned away with utterly ridiculous excuses. Again, in 2014, Dunn would say about the industry: “It’s lazy. You always hear, ‘There aren’t enough black models’, which is bulls***. It’s all about these dead excuses.”

More interesting is what designers and casting directors have to say about the racist behaviour they are accused of.

Some of them, like James Scully, took position against the racially one way oriented environment they find themselves working in.

Scully openly criticised high fashion brands such as Dior, Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton for featuring a predominant number of white models in their shows.

Apart from the few people that noticed this very weak interracial diversity, though, nothing but excuses can be heard.

When Barbara Nicoli, casting director for Gucci, was asked the same questions, she explained: “Gucci never has a huge number of black girls in the show because in the mind of Frida [Giannini, creative director of Gucci], she wants this type of girl – no matter the colour of the skin”. You were right Jourdan Dunn, this really does sound like a cover-up.

In any case, the all-white phenomenon finds an apparent explanation in a different theory. Some people suggest that the racial diversity in fashion is mostly driven by money: the major brands just do not see their products being bought by black customers; this would be the exact same reason why the number of Chinese and Russian models has become way more significant.

The rise of the Chinese and Russian market for luxury goods and the reportedly huge circulation of money in them thankfully allowed their models to make their way into the world most famous brands. And this is also why racism is more oriented towards black models.

Fortunately, this seriously embarrassing and absurd aspect of the fashion industry is slowly changing. With a lot of effort, but it is effectively moving forward.

According to Jezebel.com statistics, at the New York Fashion Week for Fall/Winter 2014, 985 looks out of 4621 were worn by models of color. Still, 9.75% of the models were black. Nevertheless, this is to be considered a huge success.

The same blog traced in a chart the racial diversity of NYFW for the previous six years: in 2008, the percentage of black models was only 4.9, while in 2014 it was 7.67, reaching its highest peak in SS12 shows (8.5%).

It seems like black beauty is starting to be valued and appreciated as it should be, and the models are pretty confident about it too.

“Fashion has come a long way in terms of racism, and it’s not as racist as it used to be”, Kesse Donkor says, “now you see a lot of black faces on the runway doing their thing. You have Jourdan Copeland, who is the first black male model to walk for Burberry, and he’s doing his thing”.

As times are changing, so are changing people views about racial diversity in the double faced market.

Kanye West, singer and acclaimed fashion designer, recently claimed that racism is now an old notion: “Racism is a dated concept. It’s like a silly concept that people try to touch on … to separate, to alienate, to pinpoint anything, it’s stupid. … It’s something that was used to hold people back in the past, but now there’s been so many leaps and breaking of the rules that it’s played out, like a style from the 1800s.”

As in Kanye’s opinion humanity has gone forward and left racism behind, in the part-time model Bryan Kalonji’s viewpoint the mentality towards racist behaviour is changing: “It is not about skin colour racism anymore, but more about body shape; if we were more open minded, we would be able to see beauty in a 85kg woman as much as in a 45kg one, and that’s when things could actually get better”.

We will see what the future holds. Fashion has started its extremely slow way supporting interracial diversity, so there is no reason why it could not accept all the types of bodies as well. Whether it will occur in a near future or not, we all know the best part about this rich and internationally gathered market is that the concept of beauty is in constant change.



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