When I received my advance copy of Italian Vogue’s“Black” issue, I was surpised and pained at the same time. The photography and the models were absolutely beautifully done. The magazine is an artistic acheivement. What pained me were the years upon years of the most insidious, racist notions by those deep within the fashion world who ascertain the idea that African American models are not commercial or marketable. Italian Vogue is in its’ second reprint at the time of this article and sales are up by 700%. So much for that myth.
The primary photographer of Italian Vogue’s historical “Black” July issue, which as been dubbed in Britain as “The Most Wanted Issue Ever!,” Steven Meisel, speaking on the various ‘reasons’ why African American models are snubbed on the runway and in fashion magazines routinely is because of “laziness, paranoia and pedantry which may have something to do with the failure to hire Black models for shows and magazine features in any meaningful manner.” Vogue did pave the way for African American models in 1974 by putting an up and coming Beverly Johnson on its’ cover. Johnson was the first African American model to do so. Naomi Campbell also hold the distinction of being the first and only African American model to cover both French and British Vogue.
However, when it comes to the runways, top fashion designers and houses still blatantly boycott African American models. Blindingly so. The recent tally of the last Paris Fashion week yielded shocking numbers:
Out of 34 models, Balanciago used zero African American models.
Out of 36 models, Chanel used zero African American models.
Out of 42 models, Celene used zero African American models.
Out of 49 models, Louis Vuitton used 2 African American models.
Out of 28 models, Chloe used zero African American models.
Interesting data isn’t it? Yet, African Americans are known to spend billions upon billions each year on designer clothes making this particular group of consumers number one on the marketing and advertising charts. Still, does this factor impress the powerful mover and shakers in the fashion industry?
The answer is a resounding NO! Fashion photographer and film maker Nick Knight commented in his film, “The Cut” that “whenever I ask to use a Black model I am given the excuses such as ‘black models are not aspirational in some markets’ or ‘they do not reflect the brands values.’ Normally, however, no reason is given…it is my belief that our society must be inclusive.”
So, with the huge sold-out mania taking place over Italian Vogue’s“Black” issue, is it wise to assume that a change in the casting and advertising sectors of the fashion world is imminent? Some would suggest that this is more than likely. But the runways of Fashion Week this Fall will be the litmus test of verification. And with a vast majority of editorial leadership in the fashion magazine sphere being Caucasian, it appears to be highly doubtful if changes in the perception and usage of African American models arrive speedily.