Sunday, October 14, 2007

Runways Fade to White

Hat tip:

Runways Fade to White
Published: October 14, 2007

IN the days of blithe racial assumptions, flesh crayons were the color of white people. “Invisible” makeup and nude pantyhose were colored in the hues of Caucasian skin. The decision by manufacturers to ignore whole segments of humanity went unchallenged for decades before the civil rights movement came along and nonwhite consumers started demanding their place on the color wheel.

Nowadays the cultural landscape is well populated with actors, musicians, media moguls and candidates for the American presidency drawn from the 30 percent of the American population that is not white. Yet, if there is one area where the lessons of chromatic and racial diversity have gone largely unheeded, it is fashion. This reality was never plainer than during the recent showings of the women’s spring 2008 collections in New York and Europe.

Although black women in the United States spend more than $20 billion on apparel each year, according to estimates by, it was hard to discern an awareness of this fact on the part of designers showing in New York, where black faces were more absent from runways than they have been in years.

Of the 101 shows and presentations posted on during the New York runway season, which ended a month ago, more than a third employed no black models, according to Women’s Wear Daily. Most of the others used just one or two. When the fashion caravan moved to London, Paris and Milan, the most influential shows — from Prada to Jil Sander to Balenciaga to ChloĆ© and Chanel — made it appear as if someone had hung out a sign reading: No Blacks Need Apply.

Rest of article is Here.

While we don't do a lot of popular culture on this blog, I thought this was important for this reason:

The marginalization of the Black Woman.

Despite her buying power- TWENTY BILLION DOLLARS STRONG - the Black Woman continues to be undervalued and outright disrespected by the fashion industry. We are consumers, and it should not be a stretch to be able to see ourselves in fashion magazines. This is also about imagery and White Supremacy and the continual perpetration that the only beauty worth celebrating is White. WE come in all shades and shapes, our features run the entire spectrum, and yet, we are not celebrated. It shows up on the runways, and then in the magazines, which spread images of beauty all over the world. Nothing against our Sisters from the Diaspora, but I'm sure that there are dark-skinned American born Black models who are just as beautiful as Alek Wek. I'm sure that there are Black models as beautiful as Liya Kedebe. I take nothing away from their beauty, but what about the home-grown Black American model...why is she so disregarded and disrespected. I do my part - the last time I bought Vogue was 2 months ago- because Michelle Obama had an article in it. Before then, I hadn't bought one in years. Ditto with Harpers Bazaar and Elle.

What about our daughters, sisters, young women we mentor? What are we supposed to tell them? Most young girls go through their fashion stage - we know that. We know that there is a time when they are pouring over the fashion magazines, when they can't wait to see them, and to look in them with their girlfriends and discuss the trends and what they like and don't like. How hurtful is it to our young women when they can't see anyone who looks like them in these magazines. I know that there is Essence, and on the point of putting forth images of Black beauty, they're still very good even after the sale. But, are we supposed to tell our young women to stay away from those other magazines, denying them that female right of passage? There's something not right,when, in the year 2007, our young women will see no more representatives of themselves in those magazines than they did in 1957. There's something fundamentally foul about that.


Brian said...

I'm a little more skeptical about these situations Rikyrah. I'm not as quick to bring up racism (although in many may be a factor).

We are 13% of the U.S. Population (both men and women). In fact, Black Americans are not even the largest "minority" group anymore.
If you count only Black women, that takes it down to roughly 7% of the population.

Can we expect to see Black women dominating the Fashion industry? I think not.

I'm open to the likely possibility that fewer young Black women are going into this type of high fashion modeling. Couldn't this be a factor? Have you checked into any figures on that?

Parents have to be extremely involved with their fashion model daughters from a very young age. Furthermore, they must know which talent events to participate in and the right modeling agencies to work with to reach the Tyra level -only a few agencies steer young Black women into the international modeling world. Many Black parents are not involved with the right people to get their daughters to the right place...and many parents are just not interested in this as a career for their kid.

Then there is the issue of geography... If you don't live in certain parts of the Country, then it is harder to get noticed or discovered by the people who can take you into that small niche of International modeling...let alone the "supermodel" level.

I just think that there are probably other factors at work...other variables that are contributing to the perceived lack of Black models and Black models in magazines.

I'm not so sure that Black models have gotten a completely raw deal. Some of the greatest fashion models in modern American history have been Black women - Iman, Banks, Peele, Webb, Campbell (& I am sure I am leaving off a few).
And of course, one of these ladies has her own national TV Show based on her successful career (a first as far as I know... although I hate the show...and don't care much for the model). But for 7% of the Population, Black women have done well overall.

You mention that it is important for Black girls to see their reflection on the cover of these magazines... However, I think that "Black America" has much more urgent problems to be concerned about regarding the image of young Black women...and the importance of positive role models, etc. There are problems and negative images (from within their own ethnic group) that they will be bombarded with long before they are even old enough to read any of those Fashion magazines.

If they internalize these negative images from music and TV, and from rappers specifically, at ages 6, 7, 8, 10, & 13 years old (and we know that this is happening) then the fashion magazine issue isn't even to being the core issue... these young women are already being lost mentally before they even get to that point.

I think the focus should be on these more urgent problems of self image.

But I did get your point... I just think you should broaden your scope and your view... "Racism" as a target is just too easy in my opinion.

rikyrah said...


I'm not talking about Black models dominating.But, if Black women are a 20 billion dollar industry - make no mistake- we have ALWAYS spent more money on beauty and fashion than our White counterparts.


I don't see that 20 billion translated into visuals in those magazines. On those covers. That ONE THIRD of those showing IN NEW YORK CITY, not Paris, or Milan, but NEW YORK CITY, had NO Black models?

Come on.

That's like the All White Jury thing. ...the dog doesn't hunt, AI.

There is simply no reason for anyone showing in NYC to come up with the reason that they can't find Black models. I don't believe them. And, this isn't a one-time occurance. When it happens year upon year, it's a disturbing pattern.

Maybe because you're a man you don't understand the depth of the influence of these magazines in a young girl's life. It's wonderful to say that the parents should be in control of their daughter's world, but these are influences and to deny such would be wrong. You think the videos are a bigger problem - I think they are a problem on the same level.

If these magazines are sold as the barometers of what's beautiful and fashionable in the world..

And,you NEVER see anyone in these pages, or on the cover that REMOTELY LOOKS LIKE YOU, what do you think that says to our young women?

It's all part of the same pounding against our young women.

rikyrah said...

The ignoring of our young women by those barometers of fashion and beauty only emphasizes MORE the other places where they see themselves - videos, music, rap. Those young women will be looking for images of themselves SOMEWHERE.

Brian said...

We will probably have to agree to disagree on this one. (although I was more interested in pushing you a little more).

I just happen to believe that the negative images that these young women get from TV (when they are watching 2-3 hours a day or more) are far more damaging to their minds than a cover of a magazine that they may only see in passing, or see only on occasion. And how many "Black" households even have these magazines anyway?

Not to mention the powerful influence that Rap culture has over them. They listen to tons of this music. So when you add the images from TV, Radio, CD's, Ipod, etc.... they are being bombarded daily with several hours of degenerate images of themselves... (even at young ages).

I just think the influence and impact of fashion magazines is tiny when compared to the influences from elsewhere, in terms of the image that they get of what Black girlhood and Black womanhood is about.

Brian said...

Do you happen to have the figures on how much other women are spending on fashion, make-up, etc.?
Or what the overall $$$ figure is for all women.

That would provide better perspective regarding who is spending what on a proportional basis.

QueenNRiot said...


Were you reading the article properly? I felt like you are trying to sweep this under the rug. This is a very serious problem. I don't think the "cure" to misrepresentation is to have black people rule over everything, but we BUY everything, so our faces should be on the next cover of Vogue, IMO.

I can't help but to think that there may be some correlation between the disappearance of high-fashion ethnic models and the increase of the video-girl model. It seems like we have created a "market" where girls who aspire to be high fashion end up half-naked on BET only because our version of "glamour" is displayed in our videos. And I would find it hard to believe that there are fewer black models trying to enter this world of high-fashion...look at pop-culture, have you seen Top Model? There are MANY girls dying for the chance to be on the runway, not just in America, but across the world....yes, some do not fit the mold 34-23-34, but there are as many black hopefuls as there are white. I wouldn't be surprised that half of those girls talked themselves out of modeling because people told them they weren't the right type of pretty (straight nose, small lips)

And to speak upon geography and some ethnic models not being close to fashion epicenters...well, you can't be serious because agencies find girls (the same girls) from as far away as Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Brazil. They are just going to keep recruiting these girls until the supply runs out or until the trend changes. Yeah,I read Vogue, I read Elle, my sister loves Seventeen, but I do sometimes feel alienated when I read these publications, mainly because of economic reasons (the clothes are way too expensive sometimes). I agree that it wouldn't hurt to show more ethnic models, it should be encouraged. I actually got giddy when I saw an ad that featured a Black woman in Lucky magazine because it made fashion more exciting! How many blah, half dead looking girls can they show before they realize that ALL people actually do respond to images of diverse women being absolutely beautiful and not with their ass in the air? What if there WERE more images of elegant ethnic women slinking down the runway on BET in couture gowns than the face-less glistening woman with massive thighs and booty shorts? Rappers just might use the runway as the backdrop for their next video, BAM! misogyny issue fixed. (not really, but you know...) Wasn't that one factor behind the success of supermodels in the 90s, there was something (someone) for everyone, and fashion made you think!

However, I don't look for validation when I read fashion magazines. And I think everyone else should not as well. The lack of diversity on the runway should not be credited solely to racism however, I honestly feel like maybe fashion has one "stilleto" in the grave, ha. No life left in it.

I can't help but feel angered when I read these articles about Blacks and racism because I feel like authors are pushing Black readers to feel victimized, albeit unintentionally. Have you ever noticed that when other groups create their own trend and culture, along comes Western or White culture to leech off, I mean tap into, that? Hip hop, art, dance....even fashion.

If fashion doesn't want color, then I say its their loss, and they will soon catch on to that. It is a tragedy however that so many very qualified models have to suffer because of "aesthetic preferences" As an aspiring model myself, I can say that things will turn around, and I am going to help make that happen, rather than wait for someone to open the door for me. I do not think white people hold the keys to my success....

Brian said...


Not trying to sweep anything under the rug. I just have a slightly different take.

And as you say... they shouldn't look for validation in those magazines. I agree 100%. And Why not create high quality magazines that could run parallel to these others? There are certainly enough Black economic power and enough Blacks in publishing who could do it.

And as I mentioned... some of the top role models in that industry...happen to be Black.