Posted by: Trina | July 17, 2008

When Will Black (Finally) Be The ‘New Black’?

With the exception of Naomi Campbell, the number of black models on the catwalks and in mainstream fashion magazines in Europe and America is severely limited. This is due in part to what is perceived as a limited customer-base amongst black people globally and what is assumed to be their low economic status, as well as a tendency to lump the black consumer into one – ‘urban’ – pot.

In an ad agency event I hosted in 2005 where German model Eva Padberg was a guest, she talked openly about the fact that ethnic models – esp. black models – don’t receive nearly the same exposure and opportunities as their white counterparts.

In a much-heralded move to counteract this bleaching of an already extremely pale fashion industry, the July issue of Italian Vogue features only black models. Rumors are already circulating that the issue is not expected to sell well, though I personally wonder whether this is based on truth – or a kind of fatalist negativity rooted in more than one bad past experience.

On the Black Women in Europe Social Network, Jennifer Ewah had this to say on the subject in a comment she entitled “Black is Back in Vogue”:

Vogue Italia will release the much anticipated July issue which has been touted as the first politicized attempt to redress the balance against active policies of exclusion of women of colour internationally in mid to high fashion editorial and advertising coverage.

This is an international issue as the generalised position of global fashion houses and cosmetics companies as we all know is that women “globally” cannot be encouraged to spend when a black model is used. Aside from celebrities like Halle Berry or where the black community is being targeted itself the general belief (expressed openly) is that due to the low economic perception, black women do not represent the face of the type of women that other women internationally (and the strategic justification is that we would especially not inspire women within the Asian market to spend). The more visceral problem is the open racism in castings (e.g. mandates stipulating “no ethnics” allowed).

Despite the fact that many black men and women are very familiar with the Prada fashion label and some are consumers, Prada has not used a single black model in their catwalk shows (through policy or lack of “aesthetic compatibility”) since 1997 with Naomi Campbell. British born Jourdan Dunn was the first this year since ‘97. Touted as the next Naomi there are indications that she will do extremely well provided as a senior luminary in the modelling agency business commentated that “she doesn’t develop phone throwing tendencies”. For her to have to follow that perception is unfortunate.

Black has not been beautiful for a long time and some say things are worse now than in the sixties, even in the US as the dominant groups (LVMH, PPR, owners of the Gucci Group) react as though black cachet has been lost.

Why do we think that is? May that be due to the predominance of diasporic representation, or being seen as synonymous with “urban” culture?

I wanted to recommend that if you see Vogue Italia you check it out and I’d like to know what ladies here think.

Personally I think that although fashion is trend based it is one of the most culturally influential and in terms of revenues, the second biggest industry in the world. Trend based (which includes cosmetics) fashion may be, but it is reflective of and shapes social perceptions, and consumption. It is a social reflector and avatar for our times.

How do you think the industry needs to be politicized by concerned insiders and outsiders from the diasporic perspective?

Click here to read what “The Independent” had to say about the situation of women of color in the fashion industry and the statement the current issue of Italian Vogue is trying to make.



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