Where have all the black models gone?

Fashion insiders are campaigning against the lack of African-American supermodels.

By Tracy Clark-Flory
September 17, 2007 11:50PM (UTC)
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Amazingly, New York's Fashion Week came and went without reviving the storm over stick-thin models. But Women's Wear Daily reports (via Jezebel) on a new controversy inspiring fashionista activism: the lack of black models. Famed fashion photographer and "America's Next Top Model" judge Nigel Barker told WWD, "Everyone is always talking about the weight issue, I think they should be talking about race."

As of Friday, a number of high-profile fashion insiders are doing exactly that. A forum, "The Lack of the Black Image in Fashion Today," was held at the Bryant Park Hotel and was led by models Naomi Campbell, Iman, Liya Kebede and Bethann Hardison. It seems there's plenty to talk about -- the discussion spanned more than two hours. Indeed, out of the 101 Fashion Week shows covered on Style.com, 31 didn't use black models at all; those that did "opted for one or two," reports WWD.


Hardison, who organized the event, said that as hard as it was for her to break into the industry as an African-American model in the 60s, it has only gotten harder for black models: "I feel it's the worst it's ever been." She added: "In the United States of America, this is the one industry that still has the freedom to refer to people by their color and reject them in their work." Part of the problem, said civil rights attorney Daniel Wolf, is that designers, modeling agencies and fashion magazines believe they have a legal right to discriminate based on race; he said they're wrong and recommended that agencies sign the same percentage of black models that are in the modeling population at large.

The good news is that the forum wasn't just a whole lot of talk. The participants have resolved to wage a campaign against racism in the fashion industry and meet with the Council of Fashion Designers of America to formally discuss the issue. There was even a brief discussion of the possibility of filing a class-action law suit against the industry's worst discriminators.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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