Where have all the black girls gone? That is the question many have been asking when they see the parade of pale-faced, blue eyed, models striding along the catwalks for all the big fashion houses during Paris, London, Milan and New York Fashion Week. And the same goes for the more run of the mill shows and in print publications where the uniformity of the European standard of beauty is ever present. But what does this one- size- fits- all categorization of beauty mean for those of us who don’t fit this archetype that the media? What if you’re a black woman, an Asian woman, a Chinese woman who does not look like a blonde haired waif? What if you are above the unquantifiable dress size zero? What if you are not able-bodied and mobility/agility is a practical issue when it comes to everyday life, let alone fashion?
You can probably name some of the biggest black supermodels on one hand off the top of your head and it is usually something like this; Naomi Campbell, Iman, Tyra Banks and possibly Alek Wek may be on your radar in recent years. There have also been an onslaught of new black models such as Chanel Iman, Jourdan Dunn and Joan Smalls – all who made a statement in Beyonce’s song ‘Yonce.’ But where else do you see black faces in fashion at even a quarter of the rate you see European looking models? It is a huge problem in terms of racial diversity and equality. There are women being denied access to an industry which promotes the idea either implicitly or explicitly the black models are not what is hot, they are not wanted or in demand.
Givenchy Creative Director Riccardo Tisci recently made headlines in glossy magazines such as Vogue and Style for his comments on choosing soul singer Erkyah Badu for his new line. He says
“At the end of the day, why are not so many black girls or Latin girls in shows?…I discovered Joan Smalls, I discovered Maria [Borges]. I discovered a lot of black girls, and I’ve been always supporting them. For me, I grew up in a family and I grew up in a culture, an education, that we all are the same… People can be so avant-garde, so advanced, but actually not, because people are still making differences between skin colour.”
Naomi Campbell has also garnered much needed attention to this issue through her campaign with Iman and Beth Hardison to get Fashion Houses to answer the question about why they’re castings seemed to result in a whiteout on the runway. She recently called her friend Victoria Beckham who was also on the list of offending Fashion Houses to discuss the matter at hand and said it may not have been “intentional” on Mrs Beckham’s part.
Potentially, with perseverance and those who are willing to step up and make changes to the status quo we will be seeing a lot more racial diversity along the runway and in print for seasons to come. However, just like the petition to get the fashion industry to include healthy weighted models and to include plus sized women in their clothing – we may be waiting a very long time for old traditions to die out.