June 16, 2011

Category: Real Talk

Fashion Industry’s Problem With Black Girls

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.


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12 Responses to “Fashion Industry’s Problem With Black GirlsComment RSS feed

    June 16th, 2011 4:36 pm

    Black in the 80s when Elle was featuring more sisters on the cover they got a letter from a white reader who said, ”I don’t pay to see my competition on the cover. ” Perception of Black women as sexual threat to massa’s concubines goes all the way back to the plantation. And goes a long way towards explaining the state of things in Conde Nast magazines. Other problem is top designers prefer models built like skinny 11 year old boy mannikins with skin to match. Mneaing they look at a sister and see nothing but wrong: Wrong skin, wrong curves, wrong caste So my devil’s advocate question would be Why should black women want to help rep an industry where starvation and a fucked-up body image is the cornerstone of success? And one where the ruling class there have made it clear you, Black Woman, have absolutely no leverage–financial, ethical, political or economic–to disrupt their diabolical scheme. Namely to make billions off of white female self-loathing. At what point does folks desire for integration into everything designated ‘whites-only’ become just a suicidal run to integrate a burning house? At what point do you stop looking for affirmation from muhfuhkuhs who think youre not sexy enough for their skirts? And whose preferred clientele are folk whose greed is responsible for most of the misery on the planet? Burn Wintour Burn.

  • Aisha
    June 17th, 2011 10:02 am

    Well said Greg!

  • Sun
    June 17th, 2011 12:34 pm

    Amen Greg!! And hallelujer! The hunger for an oppressor’s validation is bottomless.

  • Aissata
    June 17th, 2011 2:19 pm

    Greg, I couldn’t have said it better!

  • trini
    June 18th, 2011 5:53 am

    Cheers Greg.

  • Alison
    June 18th, 2011 9:58 am

    Mr. Tate, I would love to read an article of yours on this topic, as I damn near skipped the comments section and would have missed that bit of wisdom completely. You are totally right, except for one thing – the lack of an alternative mirror, one that reflects us as the beautiful people we are. We have it in our power to create – see Dead Prez’s gorgeous video, above – but instead display ourselves as booty shakers and thugs. It seems like the principle that negative attention is better than none at all…
    When I lived in Japan, a man remarked to me that he never knew how beautiful black people were until he came to America and saw something other than what he had seen on Japanese TV and American movies…..

  • theHotness
    June 18th, 2011 1:57 pm
    Author's Reply

    You know Greg you ain’t said nothing but a word! I think the motivation behind activism to increase invisibility of Black girls in Vogue, Elle, Glamour, etc. is that black in the day Elle magazine and designers like Azzedine Alaia and Martin Margiela used Black models, loved Black models and dare I say preferred Black models. So when I see women like Bethann Hardison and Veronica Webb challenge the institutionalized invisibility of Black women that exists now in fashion, I see is as them fighting for a place we once held which is very different than never being in that place at all. It’s like being allowed to vote and then 20 years later that right is taken away. So I’m with you on the Burn Wintour tip but I’m also down to fight for Flavianna Mata getting paid to walk in a Dior show or kill the competition on an Elle cover!

  • Greg Tate
    June 21st, 2011 6:59 pm

    I dont know if I’d compare the Voting Rights Act to your desire for a Runway Quota Bill, Nicole. I do agree with Sister Allison and the reggae poet Mutabaruka that ”its not good to live in a white man’s country too long.”–for us to only see ourselves though the eyes of folk who cant accept the notion that Africans are human too. Historically our struggle has been about fighting for equal treatment under the law on the one hand and internally combatting self-hatred on the other. Fashion, film, TV,music industries have been the source of so much of that self-loathing for Black women –largely because the feminine ideal projected through them is a white male fantasy related to mating, reproduction, power, social status, false perfection. These industries exist to selll whitefolk fantasies of empowerment that produce billions in returns. You know I love the art and craft of fashion design as much a you do Nicole but the motives behind that industry and that art is akin to the incestuous intermarrying aristocracies of 17th century Europe — mostly driven by elitist, genetic narcissiism. At what point do we stop feeling disempowered by being excluded from empires built to perpetuate European vanity and fetish-objects? Everyday out here I see Black women who out-dress , out style and out shine anybody in magazines, TV and films. Y’all dont seem to need Conde Nast tokenism to look feel and act like the superfly-est women on the planet. And except for those funkyfresh 70s models i’ve never seen Black women repped as stylishly n creatively in fashion rags as y’all are real life. So why go beggin’ to these industry bitches to be your fairy godmothers? What can they do for you that you cant do for self at this point? (FYI Your Vogue Italia lady sounds like every human resource director in America who complains about how hard it is to find qualified negroes. Yeah–real hard when the status quo works just fine for you and yours).

  • felice
    June 22nd, 2011 1:51 pm

    this is why we love you greg tate.

  • global fusion
    June 23rd, 2011 1:02 pm

    Yes Greg -Thank You! I am not a big fan of Sozzani & her whole take on this issue of racism in the fashion industry but at the end of the day this is typical because she is White & from Italy where they have their own deep rooted issues amongst southern Italians who are darker & claim 2 b African descendants. I don’t expect her to understand & articulate the deep roots of racism that exists for Black people because she isn’t Black & as far as she is concerned she has done her part to be inclusive -which we have all praised her for so why condemn her now for sticking to her beliefs & thought process. The reality is she is doing more than others & she doesn’t have to because Black people just can’t seem 2 accept the fact that we r not the core audience 4 Vogue, Elle etc. just as Eastern European women are not the core audience for Ebony, Essence etc. I can agree with Sozzani that we need to stop complaining & condemning & start focusing on doing better by our own publications to be competitive in a way where this will be a non-issue. Blacks in America fought so hard 4 desegregation just to end up with inferior schools , housing etc. & the worst part less Black owned businesses etc.because we were chasing to work 4 the people & system who we had condemned 4 oppressing us 4 far too long. We need to get our priorities straight as a people & really think about what it is we waste so much time & energy fighting for & about -when those energies can be utilized elsewhere to really build on something real & tangible for our own legacy outside of being juxtaposed with & at the same level as white people as if that should be our litmus test of success. There is a new scramble for Africa with Asians, Europeans etc. investing in Africa & Black America is still looking 4 nuggets from White America. Black people are the majority globally so where is the push for Essence or Ebony Latin America, Africa, Europe, Asia etc. where there are plenty of Black people with spending power who want to support publications with their likeness, but instead we spend our time chasing Vogue to represent Africa with Vogue Africa! Come on people- Harriet Tubman freed the slaves 2 go out & do for self not to run back begging massa 4 their job back or a new position in continuing to make him rich. As the famous baseball saying goes “if you build it , they will come”- If we want to play ball with the top dogs then we must focus on building from within.

  • theHotness
    June 23rd, 2011 5:58 pm
    Author's Reply

    Word to the mutha to everything Greg Tate and GlobalFusion has said! I think though we are way too deep in massa’s pool of colonialization to just say eff it, let’s play somewhere else. There has to be a middle ground and unfortunately I’m not sure if Essence and and Ebony represents that space. Still chewing on the cud and marinating on all that was said here. Peace.

  • Latasha
    June 28th, 2011 6:23 pm

    Nicole, you know I’m really one to talk about this topic. With that, very late but it might interest you what the comments were on Vogue’s end:

    “Dear Franca, thank you for a very insightful post on this issue.
    Scouting should be broader because we are BORED of the recycled Euro
    Nouveau look. its old and out now. However I will say this, having
    worked on a number of photo shoots with aspiring black models i have
    noticed this about them: they act entitled, they turn up late for
    shoots, talk all the time on the phone, turn up with make up on, nail
    painted in loud colours and don’t focus on the job. I have seen this
    every single shoot I have done with aspiring black models. these girls
    want to be the next Naomi but not work for it. Its an attitude that
    sickens me. They need to know fashion is a tough industry and the odds
    are stacked against them.”