29th September 2010
The Color of Fashion
(Page 1 of 2)
Black and other ethnic models are still not well represented on fashion runways.
With New York Fashion Week now over, design houses have moved on to filling the orders buyers placed after viewing the trends that came down the runway. Critics have adjudicated the hits, thecollection photos have been disseminated, and all the models are packed and ready for the next round of catwalk appearances. All, that is, except the dozens of black and other ethnic models, who are, as ever, unsure how much work they will get next season. It is a perennial issue—not just a seasonal one.
Fashion designers are notorious for excluding minority mannequins—male as well as female—fromtheir runway extravaganzas. Not to mention the advertising campaigns that stuff the pages of magazines from Vogue to Elle to GQ with glossy, full-page spreads. Intermittently, there comes a wave of criticism and soul-searching that results in a brief flirtation with a new crop of “exotic” mannequins and even yields the occasional supermodel, whether Naomi or Chanel Iman
And then things settle backinto the same old ... same old. Bethann Hardison, a model turned fashion-industry entrepreneur and activist, says things have improved since 2007, when she held a series of seminars and discussions with design houses and agencies pressing for more minority models, but "we're still not where we need to be."
Edwing D’Angelo is a young black/Latino designer who recently presented his exuberantwomen’s and men’s collections at the Waldorf-Astoria in a show that featured a striking array of Asian, Hispanic, black, and white models. He says ethnic models face the same obstacles as minority designers, especially when it comes to being featured in print: “They suffer from the looking-alike syndrome,” he says, referring to designers and fashion publications. “They’ll say, ‘We already have that look’... as if you can only have one ethnic model—never mind the presence of a hundred blondes.”
Everyone understands that change takes time, says Gate Haile, a New York–based model who is just completing an assignment for L'Oréal. "But I don't know how long they need," says the Ethiopian-born model, who got her start in Amsterdam. "Maybe they'll realize two years from now they need to shoot moreblack girls. They need to realize that there are beautiful black girls as well." She says almost all models struggle, "but there are a lot of black models who deserve more work."
As elusive as catwalk work may be for black and other ethnic models, landing an ad campaign is near impossible, even in a supporting role. “You might as well be asking if I can marry your daughter,” Hardison told NEWSWEEK.That reality is obvious to anyone flipping through the pages of virtually any fashion magazine, from Details to W. Brands that are as beloved by ethnic communities as they are by the wider white fan base spend millions each year on ads mostly featuring white models. The names are familiar: Prada, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry, Versace, Dior, Donna Karan New York, even Calvin Klein. Many ofthese same houses don’t send many ethnic models down the runway, either. “The runway is what starts the campaign. It’s the birth of the blues,” Hardison points out.
She and others also add, however, that the issue isn’t really racism. Model agent Dave Fothergill, who does see a “larger sprinkling” of ethnic models these days, says it is simply a mindset, albeit a shortsighted one. “Fashion isjust skewed and caters to Caucasians,” he told NEWSWEEK. “They spend more dollars when it comes to retail, so they [designers] use those faces to attract and draw business.”
Indeed, Americans spend some $326 billion a year on clothes and shoes, of which only about $27 billion comes from black customers. Ironically, many prominent black fashionistas are huge fans of some top designers who tend...