If you haven’t heard already, the July issue of Italian Vogue was unprecedented. All the models in it were black. Amidst the buzz that followed, the much-hyped “Black Issue” became such a popular success that distribution was increased by 40-percent, an amazing feat. Some (including me) saw the concept — race as an “issue” — as a gimmick, an attempt to shush critics who frequently point out how little page-time the fashion industry gives to anything other than white faces. But, without a doubt, the issue got people talking about the issues. Now, let’s hope their attention isn’t squandered.
These days, Naomi Campbell, Iman, Tyra Banks, Chanel Iman, Alek Wek, and Liya Kebede, to name but a few, have become famous faces. Yet, more often than not, runways from New York to Paris feature a non-stop parade of white models. According to fashion photographer Nick Knight, who tackled the subject in a recent video, “Untitled,” there’s a conscious effort by the fashion industry to keep it that way. “Black models are not aspirational in some markets,” he reports being told when he’s sought to use a black model for fashion shoots or ad campaigns. “They do not reflect the brand values.”
If racism is “aspirational,” something needs to change–or there won’t be any diversity–from skin color to body type–in the fashion and entertainment industries. After all, the fashion industry isn’t alone. Halle Berry is the first and only African-American woman to have won an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. What do you aspire to when you read a magazine, buy an article of clothing, see a movie? Until we change our outlook, we’ll never change what we see.
Maybe one day when diversity walks the runways as often as Gisele Bundchen–and we’ll be watching this September during Fashion Week–and movies starring Alicia Keys are making mega-bucks at the box office, consumers of all types will say, “I’ll aspire to be me, thanks.”