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The Hiss This Minute: Designers To Include More Black Models?

Chanel Iman: Ford: for Ralph Lauren  Collection SS08Chanel Iman: Ford: for Ralph Lauren Collection SS08

I was at the corner of Franklin and Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn when an unfamiliar number bloomed on my cell phone. I took the call know..its that time of year and you never know. It was Bethann Hardison, architect of last season's seminar on the issue of the lack of black models on the runways and in the mags. We were meant to catch up at year's end, but I had just not been in NY that much. I was glad we were talking because the "black models issue" was something I had meant to address back in late October, before a thousand distractions flooded my mind. Bethann wanted to let me know she was planning a second seminar. She also wanted to pick my brain to help point her to an ideal new girl that People magazine could follow around on her journey through the NY castings. The girl would keep a diary of her experiences, and the body of that diary would become the magazine article. Also she wanted to arrange a dinner with herself, myself and a bevvy of "gorgeous black beauties". And finally she wanted to collect whatever hiss I may have heard about the possibility of diversity on the FW 08 runways. I told her what I knew. Chanel Iman's Ralph Lauren Collection ads were running. Ports had employed Joan at Elite as their face this season and a lot more magazines, including US Vogue had been calling in the books of - as they say - "models of color". Versace I told her had asked the agencies to send over the cards of all their new black girls. "Oh good," noted Bethann, "I heard that Prada's been asking too and that would be something, right ? ." Well that gave me cause for pause at the corner of Franklin and Eastern Parkway, a corner where I have seen many a pair of Prada Sport boots on many a hip-hop boy. Oddly enough, during the course of the day, through several agencies- without my prompting - the same speculation came up that Prada was requesting the cards of black models. "Wow," I had joked to my friend, Fabien. "Fashion finds its conscience."
But that is exactly what troubled me a little. I don't want there to be more models of color on the runway as a matter of conscience. I only want them to be there as a matter of economics and nothing else. It is fabulous and fantastic, in my mind for it to be an issue of demographics, market share and sales figures because all these things are important to fashion. I can suspend the moral and the aesthetics of the issue. I do believe taste is a dictatorship in the same way that I believe Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons at Jil Sander and Francisco Costa at Calvin Klein Women owe me nothing.

Aramando Cabral: Public Image Worldwide: PH: Greg KadelAramando Cabral: Public Image Worldwide: PH: Greg Kadel

To make the issue more personal in terms of gender, beyond Armando/Public Image Worldwide, there are no black male models in heavy rotation on the runways. This doesn't devastate me because I knew as a devoted consumer of fashion I don't have to buy any product that does not reflect my presence in its imaging. But if something of myself showed on the scene? S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G. That's human nature no? Ralph Lauren Polo? Sold , ever since Tyson and Naomi. Marc Jacobs. Live for, if only for the year of the infamous Sonja Wanda, or the early booking on that little swan, Chanel Iman. Tom Ford's Gucci? Remember the campaign with Kiara and Jane Bradbury in black and white on what looked like a night beach. Almost bought the thong.
I remember aching to buy Dior Homme from the very first collection but in my stubborn solipsism refusing to step into the store because I did not see my shadow on Hedi's catwalk. My silhouette yes, my taste for a minimal and graphic line, yes but not the shadow. I didn't hate Hedi for this. I left him and his very good taste to its own devices, peculiarities and whims.

The inclusion of Morten Olsen in Hedi Slimane's FW 07 Dior Homme show ended up costing TI  tons!The inclusion of Morten Olsen in Hedi Slimane's FW 07 Dior Homme show ended up costing TI tons!

Oddly enough in his very last show he cast the gorgeous Morten Olsen . My credit cards were set free and I bathed that season in head to toe Dior, from coats to suits to kicks, ties, brogues, wallet, sweaters, scarf, fragrance, watch, underwear AND candles. I know this makes me a philistine . I wish I were more sophisticated, or perhaps, less narcissistic, but one boy was enough. I think only buying your reflection is the chicest way to protest a lack of diversity or modernity or openmindedness.
Bethann Hardison and I therefore differ significantly on that question of inclusiveness. If someone forms a country club and tells me I can't join, then I'll cross the street and start construction on my own enclave, not picket the offender. That is the point of view I'll express to Bethann should she still care to have dinner with me or invite me to the seminar. I hope my honest point of view might find respect but I'm sure it'll get me in trouble with some. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Ms Hardison, and I suspect we think differently on this because we are of a different generation. I don't think that everybody should respond to moral issues in one way. She remembers the glamorous activism of the late's 60's and early 70's, the era that saw her rise to prominence as a model. I sadly come out of the very cynical post-hip-hop revolution where money is what changes perceptions. I know that money inevitably is colorless because I've seen Pharell and Mr Diddy and Kanye buy their way into the status quo of LV , Hermes and come to think of it Dior Homme (Kanye has done interviews describing himself as a lost man since Hedi left).
I love fashion and I beautiful things but I stopped looking a long time ago at fashion magazines and runways for self-validation. I think it would be brilliant and sensitive and smart for more designers of Miuccia Prada and Dontatella Versace's ilk to open up their cabines to a variety of ethncities, in the way Prada has included Hye Park in the past and Versace had drafted the likes of Naomi and Kiara. But I wouldn't walk away from those shows feeling like...finally...validation...acceptance...proof that black girls are chic and sleek and complex "intellectual beauties" too. I already know this to be true, via the world that lives in my head, via the perceptions sculpted in my mind from seeing my mom and my aunts throughout the years, from my girlfriends in high school, from looking at my club running mates in my 20's dress themselves with individuality and brilliance. I've seen brilliantly styled young West Indian girls at the corner of Franklin and Eastern Parkway, dashing down the subway steps in purple stockings and white pumps with an artfully belted khaki trenchcoat . Pretty "directional", and very "awkward chic" right? I remembered thinking, "If only I had a camera!".


Fantastic Post Wayne.. I think you are spot on with your views regarding the lack of black models. As consumers we really need to choose our battles wisely. I make it a point NOT to support Designers that do not showcase Black models in their ads or Fashion shows because I assume they are not interested in my consumer dollar. Thats why I mostly support Raf Simons and Helmut Lang at least they employ Black models for their runway shows, and I thinks that says alot, with Helmut gone I am now Raf all the way. It is a hard dilema to navigate, especially if you love fashion. They whole Prada thing does get me a bit angry I must say, I recently relocated to Harlem, I am constantly surprised, Shocked really to see so many young boys and girls wearing Prada sneakers and boots. I had no idea Prada was so popular in the urban community. So I do think its a bit shameful that the Prada Corporation refuses to employ black models not even for Prada Sport. Regarding Chanel Iman: Yes Chanel does represent Black women because we are a multi race people different shades etc. the bigger question is why is the Chanel Iman prototype always the one usually Celebrated in fashion.. I love Kinee Diof Why hasnt she received a big Campaign? Not to mention she is more profound and definately more interesting than Chanel. Chanel is cute dont get me wrong and I adore her for that, but Lets be real here...

Raf Simons hasn't used a

Raf Simons hasn't used a black model in ages. But, I don't follow his menswear, so maybe he does? At least not for Jil Sander's since he's taken over as CD. His model lineup is just as white, if not, moreso than Prada and/or Calvin. At least Prada has used Hye in the past a few times.

Reply to Anonymous

Regarding Raf Simons: I was speaking about his casting for his mens collection, where he CONSISTENTLY uses a palete of various ethnic groups and non models. I never mentioned jil Sander?

Thanks for the

Thanks for the clarification. As a female, I don't really follow the men's collection. Anyway, the fashion world needs more designers like Tom Ford or for him to come back. His Gucci and YSL shows were always filled with a wide range of faces. He helped the career of Liya, Ujjwala, Nadine (what happened to her?), Ai, Valerie Prince, et al.

I remember the old YSL ads with Liya, Ai, Caroline R, Carmen, etc.

Thank You!

This is a really great post. I hope you don't mind that I excerpted and linked to it from my blog. I especially liked the comment about self-validation. I believe it is true that there are plenty of smart, stylish and beautiful women of color all around us but, in this day and age, I am still dumbfounded as to why we remain invisible in some media.

great read

This was really a great read, Wayne, thank you. And I can't but agree with what you said and can't but agree on the fact that there should be more non-caucasian models making it big time. SS 08 was the palest and blondest season I had experienced in years so if the Versace and Prada talk in particular are true than that would make me feel very happy. There was a sign that things were changing a couple of seasons ago with the rise of the Asian model (Du Juan being coined the first Chinese supermodel, Han Hye Jin reigning the runways and that fab Anna Molinari campaign and Hye Park walking for Prada and doing all the right stuff). But also for the black models, with Kinee Diouf suddenly appearing at Vuitton and Lanvin, Mia Niaria being Alber Elbaz newest muse and of course Chanel Iman's rise to stardom. But somehow, fashion's reaction to this apparant change was to cast the blonde and bland once again and as I mentioned, in particular for SS 08. I seriously can't wait to see more than four non-caucasian models on the MDC Top50 for instance. And FW 0809 is the time to make that happen. I'm watching some girls very closely...just think of Hyoni winning Supermodel of the World and keep that buzzy Lanvin-girl Gaye McDonald in mind too. I can't wait for FW 0809 to unfold!


I've been hearing how asian

I've been hearing how asian models are "in" now, but are they really? Sure, there are a few more working now, but in reality, probably only Hye Park (even she is debatable) and maybe Du Juan (who really is on her way out fast) are doing well. Du went from doing YSL, Louis Vuitton, Cavilli ads to Benneton? Han from Marilyn seems to be doing okay on the runways, and Daul Kim occasionally gets some work, but, when was the last time we saw any of them in any major campaigns or magazines (the 4 major Vogue, W, Numero). They seem to be regulated to Vogue China/Korea, Benneton ads (not bad, but lets be honest, Benneton is like the one ad that cast minority models every season), etc.

With that said, Gaye McDonald is stunning. I saw her last week, amazing girl! If Muiccia (or Rob) does cast a black model, my bet is that she will be an unknown.


beautiful post

you said everything there is to say.

with that being said, can we please have someone else other than chanel iman?




I really hope that this world of fashion could actually look more like the world in general. All colours, shapes..etc. But i do think its starts with the agencies; nd they need to be aggressive.
I am pushing(and praying) ORAINE BARRETT.I think he could be the breakout star for MAJOR this season regardless of his color.
Didnt NAOMI years ago do a PRADA campaign with Peter Lindbergh in the early 90's? thats way too long ago. I dont think a CHANEL IMAN is enough, and it will be interesting seeinng the shows in FEB

It does start with the

It does start with the agencies...just look at IMG's development board...there is one Asian girl and that is it. Women Milan has only one black girl on's ridiculous.

Wonderful feedback guys!

I really apreciate it. I also want to say in response to this last post, that the responsibility also starts with the consumer, of whatever race, to think about why we buy what we buy. I think we should all be sensitive to what we are buying and what we are not buying. People talk a lot about power in this business but I've always felt the power lies ultimately with the person buying or not buying the thing. If a gorgeous Asian model on the cover of a magazine flies off the newstand, or a stunning girl like Chanel Iman for Ralph moves the product then that puts a certain myth to rest no? In a modern world full of this revolution of globalization, where people are buzzing that places like China and India represent the new frontier for the luxury market, I think diversity is inevitable in the fashion industry.

Great post

I agree with all that has been said. I too have been watching the models very closely for the past several seasons. Looking at the changes. It really is unfortunate the way things have unfolded. It seemed a few seasons ago that black models were on the verge of becoming more mainstream, but I guess not. In agreement with an earlier post, the industry really did reply to the shifting of tides with an influx of blonde haired/blue eyed models.

Watching this, I was stunned to see it clear as day and out in the open. I love Chanel Iman, great looking girl and great model, but I'm sorry, I don't consider her representational of the beautiful black woman. Upon looking at her, it's quite obvious that she is half oriental. I'm sure we've all noticed that the criteria for a successful "black" model is, mixed and/or light skin, and if you're dark, you'd have to look as African as they come. With that, the high fashion bookings barely come in. Thank heavens Naomi is still here.

I've recently been quite disturbed with recents issues of Vmagazine. In the "Face off" editorial featuring 35 women in fashion, mostly supermodels and there was not one black or asian face. Now in V51 there is the editorial spread dedicated to our iconic blondes. Definitely some tough times. In Vogue, the look of the month is "California Girl"..I thought to myself, when is it ever not! California girl? Also in the celebrity file pages, its seems like the few blacks that make the pages are squeezed in at the inseam.

People can't be "Oriental"

Chanel Iman is not "half Oriental" because one of her parents is not a vase or an area rug.

Neither is she half-Asian as many people believe but she does have significant Asian ancestry since her mother it 1/2 Asian and 1/2 Black (her father is Black as well.)

With complete respect and apreciation... dear fellow poster. This is where the subject gets complicated for me. First let me thank you for your honesty and outspokeness. That is what it is all about. And I hope you'll keep posting in that spirit. But let me just pose a questions in response. Why dismiss Chanel Iman as not being representational enough? What then would you consider to be "enough" or apropriate when it comes to black beauty. Does the beautiful black woman have only one look or one form? For me the magnificent thing about the beauty of black women and men is the diversity thereof . If Chanel Iman is part Asian and not acceptable, then perhaps Tyson Beckford, is not representative of the beauty of black men. But I think he is. What do we do with Pat Cleveland? I found her represenational and I found Bethann representational and Naomi Sims and Beverly Johnson and Shari Belafonte. Chanel Iman is now a part of that legacy and I feel she deserves it. In my time as a journalist I've met French "metisse" or "mixed" beauties like Chrsytele St Louis Augustine and Noemi Lenoir and found them really beautiful. And I've interviewed Alek Wek and thought her really beautiful! Veronica Webb, Iman, Naomi, Tyra all beautiful to me because I realize that DIVERSITY is inextricable from the black experience. True, the mainstream media picks from the spectrum of diverse black beauty a certain set of "types". But in my consciousness, of which I'm my own editor, my own designer, my own photographer, my own stylist I don't have to choose. No magazine editor or designer or stylist on the face of this earth can control the perception I have of myself in my own head. I don't have to choose between lightskinned or darkskinned or African vs African-American vs Jamaican. I can and will embrace it all . That's why it doesn't bother me if Inez and Vinoodh do not choose shoot black or Asian models in "Face Off" for V. "Do you" as the kids on the streets say, and I'll do me. Let Vogue do what it wants to do. They owe me nothing.I don't have to go to those magazines for approval or for self-validation. I'm so grateful for the poster who excerpted that idea on their blog because ultimatately that was the point of the post. If you want to see a certain thing in this world, done a certain way in your own image, do it yourself. Design that collection and cast the models YOU love. Start a magazine or blog. Pick up a camera and photograph your own "Face Off" with the people YOU love. It may not be as glossy and oversized as V. It may not have the history, budget, power and status of Vogue, but it will be a TRUE representation of your taste. I truly believe that nobody can create representations of your culture but you. We live in in a time when you can put it on youtube and myspace. That's why I love the time I live in. Its revolutionary really that I can see all these beautiful kids putting up the profiles of themselves and taking pictures of their latest outfit. I find it so beautiful! You can put your creative message out there and no matter how raw, homemade, rough, cheap and humble it is, it will find an audience. This is the one thing that I dream of Bethann 's intiative triggering. All those cool new kids rejected from the country club, building their own country club and creating a new aesthetic that is open-minded, poly-sexual, artistic, modern, of the moment, multicultural, intelligent , independent and only interested in its own approval. Its starting to happen you know.


You have made great points. Many of which I realized I faulted on, after I had already clicked "post comment". Yes, I completely believe that Vogue, V and the like can do what they want and that Inez and Vinoodh can most definitely cast whom they please. I in no way search for self validation, or the validation of others in those pages. I said what I said because I've seen first hand, and I'm sure you have aswell, the heirarchry that can stem in part of these pages, whether it be differences in weight, money, color, race. Some people see these magazines and the rest of the fashion world as beacons of hope and do get discouraged when they don't see the folks that look a bit more like they do. Ofcourse many use that as the reason to keep their dreams alive and move foward. Most of us know that mainstream acceptance of anything is ultimately up to us as individuals and not the job of a few fashion magazines.

I was just expressing a point of view that people have been expressing is all. I hope I did not come off as some sort of dumbass or step on any toes in my previous post. I definitely do admit faults that I should have processed more carefully. As for Chanel Iman, what I meant was that there are so many "black girls" that I interact with of whom don't feel represented/welcome in the world of modeling when it seems as if only the mixed and light skin blacks become more lucrative. I do not mean to discredit her in any way. I've actually met her on a couple of occassions around Manhattan and I am greatful for her strides. I'm also not discrediting any other model of color. Yes, Noemi Lenoir is drop dead gorgeous. I had the great pleasure of seeing her on a Manhattan corner. I didn't say that any of these women weren't beautiful.

And I whole-heartedly stand behind and admire your vision and what you're doing. I share pretty much all of your views expressed here and do intend to start up some things of my own in the future. I greatly appreciate your reply.

N.S. :-)

All Points Of View Welcome

Dear N. S,
But you know I totally welcome a different point-of-view. Please don't apologize for seeing things the way you do. Like I said diversity is everything. You made a fantastic point about people seeing magazines and the fashion world as a beacon of hope. In fact, that beacon was what drew me to fashion in the first place. I got close to the beacon and became dis-illusioned. The only strategy for me to survive that dis-illusionment was to become independent. I concede my POV is very much tied up with my personality which is driven to be autonomous and not "need" other people to create my sense of self. But if you don't have that set of creative skills, like a photographer or stylist or make-up artist, writer or editor it is harder, no?. If you go to the newstands every month and find yourself excluded, it is discouraging. The media does hold a certain degree of power over our lives and the good part about what you're saying and Bethann is saying is that this exclusion is unacceptable in the modern world. It is important to speak up about this. By reading your post the power of that position just came home to me.
Me, I come out of punk and grunge and rude-boy culture so "Do It Yourself" and that whole Malcolm McLaren/ New Romantic/ Smiley Culture/Neneh Cherry/ Bob Marley rebel instinct is in my blood. If it ain't corporate and glossy it doesn't bother me. But you've made me think and today I'm booking a ticket to London. An idea just came into my head and it involves really humbling myself but that's cool . For provoking that thought I really really thank you!

Thanks again!

Thanks Wayne, for your reply. Yes those who don't possess that artistic sense of self do have a harder time with their self-validation. It's most definitely important to speak up and believe in the power of our voices. I too have been dis-illusioned, but will continue moving fowrad. I'm glad we ended well and share pretty much the same views. I'm very humbled and touched by what you've said in the later part of your post. Our discussion has caused me to begin re-evaluating some things of my own. Thank you for that! All the best to you for your London plans.
"I'll be back" for more!

N.S. :-)

Armando Cabral

Armando Cabral is Portuguese =D

Taste is a dictatorship.

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