Islandista supermodels call for more diversity on the catwalks

Naomi Campbell, Bethann Hardison and Iman spoke about the lack of diversity in fashion on ABC.

Naomi Campbell, Bethann Hardison and Iman spoke about the lack of diversity in fashion on ABC.

Jamaican-Brit supermodels Naomi Campbell and Jourdan Dunn have added their voices to Bethann Hardison’s call for more diversity on the catwalks at the Big Four fashion weeks.

Coming off the runway after the Jason Wu show at New York Fashion Week (one of the few shows to really display diversity but Wu knows how his name was made!), Dunn was as forthright as ever when Fashionista.com asked her about Hardison’s open letters to the governing councils of the various weeks, saying:

“I mean, there was a season where ethnic models were being represented and then it went back to the same routine of just using one or none at all. It seems like [non-white models] are only cast when it’s hot for one season and everyone jumps on board. It’s a look.”

Meanwhile, Naomi Campbell appeared on ABC with Hardison herself and fellow super Iman to discuss the issue. With just a bit of understatement, she said she makes her dissatisfaction known when she is booked on shows with no other models of colour.

“I don’t like it, and I say it, I say, ‘Where’s the others?’ I’m very outspoken, as we know.”

Oh yes. We know.

But on a more serious note, Campbell added:

“The statistics, it’s really shocking. Heartbreaking. Your body and beauty, it doesn’t matter what color you are. If you’ve got the right talent, you should be there having the opportunity to do the job.”

Now some might say that Naomi is being over the top saying that it’s heartbreaking – after all, it’s just fashion right? Not the real world?

But the problem is that these fashion industry attitudes filter down to the real world. It is all a part of a larger dynamic that says that the looks of women of colour are not as good as. When, as Jourdan pointed out, dark models are only used for a particular fashion moment, it is part of the mindset that pigeonholes our looks into the realms of the extreme and implies that our beauty can never be accepted as mainstream, conventional prettiness.

A 2011 UK Guardian article about islandista-descended model Leomie Anderson gets into this mindset more deeply, with some insightful quotes from Annie Wilshaw, the booker from her agency Premier.

Booker Annie Wilshaw puts it more strongly: “Yes, I’d say the industry is racist. In Milan black girls never work. In Paris it’s still the same. It’s 2011 and that’s quite disgusting, really.”

Wilshaw continues: “When the client sends you a brief you know straight away they’re not talking about a black girl. They say they want ‘a girl with long hair, who looks like a fairy’ or something. When they want a black girl, they will say ‘looking for mixed-race girl, tribal-prints location, desert scene’.

But the question is – why are people’s minds so closed that they cannot conceive of a black girl as a fairy? Or an Indian girl or a Chinese girl?

For instance – take a look at this photo by the uber-talented Risee Chadderton from Eye One Visuals. Doesn’t her (black!) model look ethereal and fairy-like? We can be fairies dammit! We just need others to open their eyes.

 

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