UPDATE (06.21.11): Vogue Italia Editor-in-Chief, Franca Sozzani, responds to recent claims that the Fashion Industry is racist. The title of her post, which was published yesterday, “Why It Is So Hard To Scout For Black Models?” never really gets answered. Instead Sozzani minimizes the allegations of racism by saying that the media has an unfortunate need to be controversial: “I feel sorry for being a journalist. I do understand that few of us do this job with fairness and sincerity. Controversy sells. But does it help solving the problem? It doesn’t, of course.”
What Signora Franca doesn’t get is the need (and right) of the media, cultural critics and consumers to critique and voice their dismay at an institution steeped in racism. Ask Martin Luther King or bell hooks or Michael Moore. Change very seldom happens out of the blue, demands need to be made.
I actually really like Vogue Italia and appreciate Franca’s vision because she has placed the mag at the forefront of implementing change. Her all-Black issue and website are proof of that, but by no means do these two platforms mean that diversity isn’t a problem. Franca would however try to convince you otherwise. She’s clearly from the same school that believes if the US has a Black President then racism is no longer a problem for Americans. Just as one man don’t stop no red neck tomfoolery, no one website or one magazine issue has absolved the fashion industry of its failure to be more inclusive of Black models.
And when it comes to scouting for Black models, Sozzani’s answer is a doozy: “I also understand that it’s not easy to go scouting around Africa or America randomly, yet I am sure that a scouting carried out in places other than Russia, Uzbekistan, Bulgaria or Hungary could give excellent results.”
I never knew scouting in Chicago, Washington D.C. and New Orleans was so challenging. Is it the terrain? What about the Southside and the 9th Ward makes random scouting so very tough? Donald Trump may be a friend to The Blacks, but clearly modeling agents, well, not so much.
And wait, is Franca telling me it’s logistically easier to get to and scout in Bulgaria than it is Botswana. Give me a friggin spaghetti break! I hope that much of what is making me cringe about Sozzani’s post is because the point of the matter was somehow lost in translation cuz right about now I’m feeling just like Bill Murray shooting that whiskey commercial in Tokyo.
Click HERE for Franca Sozzani’s entire post.
ORIGINAL POST: The fashion industry cannot seem to get their act together when it comes to issues of race and diversity. Just this past February John Galliano offensive remarks about Jews caught everyone off guard and has landed him in a heap of hot water including possible jail time. Now hairstylist James Brown (his name just had to be ‘James Brown’) has fessed up to using the N-word multiple times during the BAFTAS. Brown admitted calling presenter Ben Douglass a n***er in what he claims was a drunken rant. Of course, like Galliano he has since apologized and is now seeking therapy.
When it comes to Black models in particular, the fashion industry is failing with runways, magazine covers and advertisements more staid, pale and homogenous than ever. The fact that designer Alber Elbaz’s decision to close out the Lanvin spring 2011 show with five black models would make for not only a standing ovation, but would result in a major yet informative NY Magazine feature speaks volumes on just how rarely black models are featured in major shows and advertisements.
Carole White of Premier Model Management the agency that represented supermodel Naomi Campbell for much of her career affirms that there is still a major disparity in terms of jobs offered for black models: “At the high end, it is slightly better now. But in the mid-range — the catalogues, the e-commerce websites– it is difficult. They want girls who are ethnic, but light-skinned girls. If a girl is very dark, they say no.”
So not only are Black girls getting dissed on the catwalks and in editorial meetings by designers and editors, but dark skin girls are getting the brunt of fashion’s haterism, which may explain Naomi Campbell’s seemingly displaced, if not absurd “hurt” over being described as “chocolate” by Cadbury: “It’s upsetting to be described as chocolate, not just for me, but for all black women and black people.”
Black may be the hottest color in the fall/winter collections, but clearly this is only relegated to the clothing worn and not to the models wearing them on the runways. Stay tuned for the next hiccup. Meanwhile sisters please listen to dead prez and embrace your chocolate, caramel, honey complexions.