The October issue of the fashion magazine Numéro features an editorial spread in which French model and Estée Lauder face Constance Jablonski poses in a brown Afro wig and dark makeup with this season's second-hottest accessory: a black baby.
The spread was shot by Greg Kadel, who is, shall we say, not known for his racial sensitivity.
In some of the shots, the brown Afro wig is mysteriously swapped for a blonde one.
There has been a rash of fashion photography featuring white models styled and made up to look as though they were black, a trend that offers yet more evidence of the disturbing level of cluelessness of certain industry power-brokers the longer it endures. First, Steven Klein shot Lara Stone in blackface for French Vogue, then V ran a blackface editorial, then America's Next Top Model picked up on the trend. (Tyra later apologized.) Then smaller, foreign magazines picked it up, then the men's magazines took the idea and ran with it. Karl Lagerfeld recently shot Claudia Schiffer in a variety of racial disguises, including black- and yellowface.
Viewed most harshly, these fashion spreads refer to Amos and Andy and minstrelsy and all sorts of things enlightened types like Carl Paladino would probably LOL at. Viewed most kindly, they recall such cringe-inducing moments in racial drag as Mickey Rooney's turn as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast At Tiffany's. (Director Blake Edwards: "I would give anything to be able to recast it.")
My reaction is pretty much summed up by this commenter on The Fashion Spot:
Not this again. Just hire a black model. Why this?
What makes these spreads all the more distasteful is the fact that black models (like all non-white models) face significant discrimination within the industry. New York fashion week — which was only two weeks ago — black models appeared on the runway only 8.4% of the time. And in Europe, opportunities for non-white models are even scarcer. And on those rare occasions when fashion does employ black models, it tends to highlight their "other"-ness, for example by having them pose nude while other models are clothed, or even by directly comparing them to animals. Spreads like these demonstrate, among other troubling things, just how very far the industry has to go.