This is the title that Caryn Franklin, former fashion editor of i-D and fashion commentator, gave her article featured in the March 2011 ELLE (UK) magazine. Asking readers what I’ve been wondering for years – ‘Why is there such a narrow range of women represented in the industry?’ She recalls a fashion era where models were different from what we see today. I don’t remember much of that. My love for fashion began in the Naomi, Cindy, and Linda days. The day the super model was born. But even in that day there was only one of me there, and she definitely wasn’t fat like me.
British Vogue’s Alexandra Shuman tells the Daily Mail‘s Liz Jones, “There have always been black players on the scene — at the moment look at the stylist Edward Enninful, make-up artist Pat McGrath and [models] Jourdan Dunn, Liya Kebede and Joan Smalls, who are at the top of the tree … In a society where the mass of the consumers are white and where, on the whole, mainstream ideas sell, it’s unlikely there will be a huge rise in the number of leading black models. If you look at the characters that sell magazines such as Grazia and Heat, it is Jennifer Aniston, Cheryl Cole and Catherine Middleton.” [SOURCE]
There’s something seriously wrong with Shuman’s fashion tree if out all the ‘black’ key players you can only name 6 of them. I often wonder if we are really the minority or if it’s just made to seem that way. The annual minority buying power report was released in November 2010 by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia Terry College of Business. It stated that the combined buying power of racial minorities (Blacks, Asians and Native Americans) will rise from $1.6 trillion in 2010 to $2.1 trillion in 2015. A trillion dollars!!! In my opinion, blacks purchase even when we don’t have the money to and thus why I question who is the ‘mass consumer’. Because we buy into this myth our black models are seen far and few in between. It’s clear and it became more obvious in 2008 that we all want to see more black models as the demand for Vogue Italia’s black issue was unprecedented when it debuted.
19 year old model Leomie Anderson (pictured to the left modeling for Marc Jacobs during NYFW) wrote a letter to the Sunday Times in the UK about working as a black model in the fashion industry and the racism she had experienced.
“I’ve only had one racist comment made directly at me. I’d gone to a casting for a London fashion designer, I can’t say who. They just said: “We only want pale-skinned girls to be in our show.” To be honest, I didn’t feel emotional about it. I just thought: “Well, it’s not my fault. That’s their opinion. They are out of date, and in time, they’ll have to change; they can’t continue with that perspective.” [source TheYbf]
Creatively speaking I am torn. If you are a designer I feel like it’s totally your choice in who you want to represent your brand or what type of consumer you may want to market to. So if I am white more than likely the majority of the models I book will look like me. And same if I were black. You would think. But that doesn’t happen.
Like Alexandra Shuman states, it’s this mass consumer that controls how we advertise. There has yet to be a black designer whose runway is saturated with black models. My theory - minority consumers will buy regardless of who is used to advertise the product. Often times when blacks are used in an advertisement it can be seen as urban. Same if I were to use a plus model to advertise a collection with sizes ranging in 0-24. Society automatically assumes that the collection is only for fuller women rather than for all sizes. Would you not buy the red lipstick if it were modeled by an older woman full of gorgeous grey hair? Probably not. We would automatically assume it’s some product with magical aging solution with the intent to cure wrinkly lips.
I am not sure if there will ever be and end to racism, ageism, or fattism (IDK if those last two are even words!). It seems to just transform itself in many ways over the years. What fashion can and needs to do is support those great designers and models no matter the color. Not just because Anna (Wintour) coins them as the next hot thing. Rather because they’re truly talented.
So do you agree with Caryn Franklin, is fashion racist, ageist, and fattist? Or do you side with Shuman and say that there’s really only room for 4 or 5 minorities in fashion?