Where Are All The Black Models? Let's Start By Asking Anna Wintour

Illustration for article titled Where Are All The Black Models? Let's Start By Asking Anna Wintour

Almost a month to the day after Women's Wear Daily posed the question, yesterday's New York Times ran a lengthy piece inquiring about the absence of black models on the recent fashion runways. Over the course of some six weeks and four cosmopolitan cities — New York, London, Milan, Paris — the number of dark faces on the runways was abominably low. (L.A. Fashion Week starts today.) But was the absence of black faces really that startling?


Not really. Times writer Guy Trebay and his coterie of quotable, high-powered image experts (IMG's Ivan Bart, veteran agent Bethann Hardison, Diane von Furstenberg) can pin the lack of diversity among models on fashion designers and model bookers all they want, but perhaps — as designer Vivienne Westwood angrily points out in today's Telegraph — they should be taking a good hard look at "racist" (her word, not ours) magazine editors.

A thorough look at the October issues of nine of the largest American women's fashion/service magazines reveals that black models are far more common in advertisements than fashion editorials. (Don't get us started about magazine covers.) Certainly, you can blame the squeamishness of advertisers for the unchallenging, stale, and hypocritical content within women's magazines (and you'd be right in doing so) but they come off as refreshingly progressive with regards to skin color. (Of course, it all boils down to money: corporate America, if not Anna Wintour, has listened to the recent estimates that black women spend a whopping $20 billion a year on apparel.) But let's not blame Anna for everything: Not only does she have a Black Best Friend, she's only doing what every other editor is doing:

Black Models In Advertisements, October 2007:

Marie Claire: 10, 1 of whom is a celebrity: Walgreens (3), Olay (1), Johnson's Soft Lotion (1), Diesel (1), CoverGirl (1), Puma (2), JCPenney (1).

W: 3, 1 of whom is a celebrity: Target (1), L'Oreal (1), Turks & Caicos tourism board (1).

Vogue: 6, 4 of whom are celebrities: Revlon (1), American Express (1), Diesel (1), JCPenney (1), Vaseline (1), Avon (1).

Harper's Bazaar: 2, 1 of whom is a celebrity: Make-A-Wish Foundation (1), CoverGirl (1).

Glamour: 3, none of whom are celebrities : Aquafresh White Trays (1), Liz Clairborne (1), Lee Jeans (1).

Cosmopolitan: 0.

Allure: 8, 4 of whom are celebrities: Diesel (1), Revlon (1), Sephora (1), L'Oreal (1), Revlon (1), Aquafresh White Trays (1), CoverGirl (1), Olay (1),

Lucky: 9, 4 of whom are celebrities: CoverGirl (1), Target (1), American Express (1), MAC Cosmetics (1), Dillard's (1), Puma (2), Sephora (1), Avon (1)

Elle: 13, 3 of whom are celebrities: Target (1), MAC Cosmetics (1), Diesel (1), Puma (2), Benetton (1), Avon Foundation (1), House of Dereon (4), Secret (1), Botox* (1).

*Wait, didn't Naomi Campbell say that black don't crack?

Black Models In Fashion Editorial, October 2007:

Marie Claire: 1, starring solo in a 6-page fashion editorial

W: 1, appearing on 1 page of a 20-page fashion editorial

Vogue: 0

Harper's Bazaar: 0

Glamour: 0

Cosmopolitan: 0

Allure: 0

Lucky: 0

Elle: 0

Why does it matter whether black models are on the covers or within the fashion editorial spreads of women's magazines if they're already shown shilling drugstore-brand cosmetics and fashions found in mid-range department stores? Because the covers and the fashion editorials of women's magazines are where aspiration resides, where the seeds of fantasy are planted (read: manufactured). There may not be a lot of money for your average model in a 4-page Glamour feature on fall outerwear — she's hoping more for that lucrative cosmetics contract with L'Oreal — but there's a lot of power: It is on the editorial pages that an editor communicates most directly with her readers. There's a reason why impressionable, fashion-obsessed 13-year-old girls choose Steven Meisel-lensed fashion spreads over CoverGirl lipstick ads when decorating their bedroom walls. And the covers, when they do feature a black face, are almost always given up to a celebrity, a woman who most likely has straightened, lightened, contoured and streamlined her hair and facial features to as close an approximation of whiteness as possible. You know what would be really political? If women's magazine editors debated the diversity of black beauty not just in the conference rooms of white-shoe law firms but in their pages.

Runways Fade To White [NY Times]

Dame Vivienne Attacks 'Racist' Magazines [Telegraph]

Related: Where Were The Black Models? [WWD, sub. req'd]

Consumer Expenditure Data [TargetMarketNews]

Earlier: Black Fashion Industry Insiders Ask: Where Are The Black Models?

Death Of The Black Model?



Jenna Sauers

@PetiteGal: I'm also curious why the media always focuses on black women when they point out the fashion industry's race problem. As far as I'm concerned, Asians are even worse off than black models - anyone can name a half-dozen black or mixed-black models who are extremely well-known (Liya, Alek, Naomi, Tyra, Chanel Iman...). And some of those women, particularly Naomi, really push the colour issue and keep it on the media agenda. But who can name that many Asian models? Off the top of my head I've got Jenny Shimuzu and Devon Aoki. Jenny doesn't even work anymore as far as I know, and Devon barely does, now she has a film career. And neither of them really speaks out about racism in the industry.

Not that it's a model's job to advocate her ethnicity or be anybody's model minority, but black models - especially ones that have gotten big enough that they're less vulnerable to industry backlash - have been more vocal on the issue. I think that's part of the reason why when the media covers the problem, they always talk about it as primarily (or only) affecting black models.

It's also possible that it's partly because there's a historical precedent for a kind of pan-black consciousness: "Black" is a kind of big, but defined, social group, formed as a result of civil-rights struggles and the end of colonialism. And because we're used to thinking about blacks as a group, it's easy to think about black models as a group.

I'm not sure if there's as much solidarity among Asians - there's no real historical precedent for lumping the inhabitants of a dozen different countries, with different languages and cultures, together (or for them recognising themselves as members of a pan-Asian group). Does a Japanese designer really feel solidarity with a Korean model who comes to a casting for his show? I'm not saying a black designer necessarily instinctively identifies with a black model or wants to promote her, but at least they probably acknowledge each other as members of the same marginalised group trying their best in a cutthroat industry. Because "Asian" is a much more fragmented and wide-ranging category, it's probably easier for the fashion industry to studiously ignore it.