By Pavlina Hatzopoulos
Whitewashed runways, campaigns and magazine editorials have been a lasting reality in the world of fashion. There’s no denying that a racism in fashion exists. I have experienced it first hand, and I’m not alone. The US has a black President and the wealthiest woman in entertainment is black. So, I ask, why is the fashion industry so far behind the rest of society?
Jezebel recently dug up some dirt on the New York Fashion Week, Fall 2013 fashion shows. What they uncovered is very unsettling, to say the least. During the season, 151 New York designers showcased at fashion week, providing 4479 ‘looks’. White models wore 82.7% of these looks. Only 9.1% of looks were shown on Asian models, and Black models were employed for just 6% of looks. Non-white Latin models presented 2% of the looks and models with races not defined by these categories were given 0.2%. Many designers – including big names like Calvin Klein and Juicy Couture – employed no models of colour at all.
This problem is not confined to the runways. Paris Vogue Editor in Chief, Emmanuelle Alt, has not used an African or Asian model on the cover of her magazine in over two years. She’s been in charge of 24 issues, which have included four covers of Kate Moss and one of Gisele Bundchen’s bum. Lord forbid she inject a bit of diversity! French Numero is also a culprit, publishing a very questionable editorial, showing white American model Ondria Hardin, with darkened skin. The spread was given the title ‘African Queen’.
Now, you can’t tell me there were no African models available to do the job instead of Hardin. Rising stars Malaika Firth or Maria Borges could’ve easily stood in Hardin’s place. Although the magazine apologised for any offence caused – stating they have “regularly demonstrated… deep attachment to different skin-coloured models’”- of the last 141 covers, only three models that were featured, were not white.
Our world has an abundance of diversity, but why isn’t it reflected in fashion? Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo are all ranked within the top 20 international markets for fashion, along with renowned fashion capitals, New York and London. Also emerging as a big-tier consumer, is the city of Dubai, with several fashion houses such as Chloe, and Elie Saab setting up flagship stores there. Now, if the people of these cities are some of the biggest consumers of your brand, why wouldn’t you use your promotion strategies to appeal to them? If people don’t see themselves wearing or using products, they are far less likely to buy them.
In saying that, designers and casting directors shouldn’t use an Asian model, for example, to appeal to the Chinese consumer, just because China is the next big market. Prominent models like Jourdann Dunn have spoken out about this kind of tokenism, relating how her agents would call her, telling her not to bother showing up for certain castings as “they’ve already hired a black girl”. Since when are races classified as some sort of novelty or trend?
As a dark featured, Mediterranean looking model in the Australian market, I’ve also had to deal with racism. I’ve been told not get too tanned or to have dark hair, as I “don’t want to look too ethnic”. What’s so wrong with looking ethnic? The whole world is ethnic! I’ve also been rejected for jobs for not having the right ‘girl next door’ look. Well, I don’t know about you but my next-door neighbours are Vietnamese and Lebanese… So what even is this girl next-door look everyone goes on about?
Australia is a beautifully multicultural country, so the chances of finding a blonde haired, blue eyed beach babe are a lot less than finding us ‘ethnic looking’ people. One of the agencies in my city only represents one black model. With a huge African community in Australia, that’s just not good enough. A good model is a good model, and they should be able to adopt any character, regardless of their skin colour.
Fortunately, there are many people speaking out about this issue. Supermodels Iman, Naomi Campbell and Bethann Hardison established the Diversity Coalition, writing to the fashion councils of New York, London, Milan and Paris, to demand change.
More influential people in fashion need to stop playing the blame game – agents blaming designers for not hiring a diverse mix of models, designers blaming agents for not providing non-white models – and work together for some real change.
Not White does not equal Not Beautiful.