In the dawn of a new day for American culture, we celebrate the opportunity of diversity and the promise it offers Blacks in America. We also wake up daily watching our Black President address the nation and often the world, and we are filled with hope and the possibility of a dream come true; a chance at equality. However, in the midst of this dream, there lies a harsh reality in the glamorous world of fashion–there is still a stunning lack of opportunity for models of color.
In 2007, it was reported that one-third of the New York Fashion Week runway shows were 100 percent White. Three years later, while the nation acquired African-American representation in the highest position of government, of the 4,095 glides down the runway, only 662 of them were take by non-White models and of those 323 of those models were Black (as reported by Jezebel.com.)
It can be said that while these numbers are an increase from the 2007, there is still a notable lack of Black representation in the industry. With the exception of a few fresh Black faces and now household names such as Chanel Iman, Jourdan Dunn, Sessile Lopez and Arlenis Sosa, the usage of other models of African origin is slim.
While fashion publications and the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s President Diane Von Furstenberg have attempted to bring this issue to light and encourage casting a range of diverse models, America has yet to ease into a normal routine of seeing models of ethnicity grace the runways, billboards or even fashion advertisements.
But there are pinpoints of light. In 2008, Vogue Italia’s editor Franca Sozzani generated the first ever “Black issue,” which featured more than 100 pages of prominent Black models and articles about Black-related subjects. This July issue sold out in newsstands across America and the United Kingdom in 72 hours (Cnn.com). Sozzani commented that she was “Inspired by the untapped potential of Black models.” Unfortunately, her advertisers did not show the same inspiration and featured mostly White models.
Two years later, continuing the campaign to increase the visibility of Blacks in fashion, Vogue Italia created Vogue Italia Black a run-off website, dedicated to Black models and Black fashion, with Bethan Hardison former model and advocate for Black models as the editor-at-large. Hardison is well known among industry Elites for her panel discussions on the lack of Black image in fashion today.
While the overall goal is not to generate an all-Black fashion show or to only use Black models, there is an effort to create equality in an industry that is based on beauty and that dictates societal standards. If Fashion Week shows set the standard for the in’s and out’s of our society as it relates to images, what message is the lack of visibility of models of color suggesting. Coupled with the impact of the buying power of African-American consumers, there is definitely a disconnect. And although we have come a long way, we still have a journey in front of us.