Last night, five months following her first event about the lack of diversity in fashion, model-agency owner Bethann Hardison held a similar gathering with the stated goal of examining why models of color are in such short supply on the fashion industry's runways and magazine editorials. (The attention to the issue seems to be growing: At a September event called "The Lack Of The Black Image In Fashion Today", 70 people, including Naomi Campbell, showed up; Hardison's second symposium, held in October at the New York Public Library, drew 275, and last night, a group of around 200 were on hand.) Ms. Hardison (seen above left between Campbell and Iman) began yesterday's proceedings by addressing the crowd — a motley crew of models, journalists, designers, stylists and industry insiders — saying when it comes to a lack of diversity on the high fashion runways, "All of us are responsible."
Ms. Hardison then read a statement from Vogue editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley, who could not attend because he was in Chicago in conjunction with the Barack Obama campaign. (Talley was assisting with making phone calls to voters in South Carolina in support of Mr. Obama.) Talley's message was eloquent and impassioned, beginning with the fact that black people first arrived in this country as cargo and that it's been a battle for them in the hundreds of years since. He stated: "This struggle is so important to all of us... They will say this is not an issue, but it is..." Borrowing from the Obama slogan, Mr. Talley wrote that "Change we can believe in has to happen."
Next up were freelance creative director James Scully (who has worked for Tom Ford and Harper's Bazaar) and Nian Fish, creative director of KCD, the pr/event production firm responsible for many of the top runway shows. As he did in October, Mr. Scully blamed Prada for the influx of "15-year-old Russian girls" on the runway, a look he claimed other designers copied and fashion people got accustomed to seeing and not critiquing. Ms. Fish pointed to the early '90s, when many British designers and stylists came to the U.S. with a certain aesthetic and wanted only white models. She stated that she had been privy to conversations with designers and stylists who would literally say, "we already have one of those" when pointing to a black model as an excuse not to hire another.
Many other people spoke: model Lily Taylor said that when she started in the business at 15, her agency wanted her to get a nose job and she refused. Another model from Ethiopia claimed that she attended the Ford Supermodel Of The World event and saw that 80% of the models chosen were white or Eastern European. Harriet Cole of Ebony magazine pointed out that models are supposed to reflect the world and that fashion is global. "With the political season upon us, if the globe doesn't recognize black people, what does that say?" she asked, rhetorically.
A man named Roman Young from Elite Model Management, hails from Hawaii and said that the modeling agencies cannot bear all of the blame. "When a client says 'I want the girl next door,' I say 'The girl next door to who?'" Mr. Young told the crowd. Model Jessica White, who recently inked a deal with Maybelline, said that celebrities are taking the spots of many black models — after all why should marketeres get a model for their advertisements when they can get Beyoncé or Halle Berry? But, Ms. Hardison countered, neither Beyoncé nor Halle Berry ever walk the runways in Milan or Paris. Veteran model Coco Mitchell suggested that black people not purchase items from designers who do not use black models and pointed out that neither Prada nor Jil Sander ever do. Damon Dash spoke of his transition from music to fashion with wife Rachel Roy and said, "We gotta watch each others' backs." And Mr. Scully suggested the group start shopping at the Gap as Patrick Robinson is now the head designer.
Ms Hardison reminded the audience that the issue of the lack of black models is not about creating an all-black runway but diversity. "I'm not trying to tell anyone what to do," she continued. "I'm just trying to raise consciousness. We can make a change just by being here."