• Mon, Mar 18 2013

‘We Already Found One Black Girl. We Don’t Need You Anymore.’

Chanel-Iman

As we have noted many times, the fashion industry is notably slow to change its ways. Despite priding itself on constantly progressing the future of our wardrobes forward, it never fails to astound us in its lack of speed with regards to things that, say, racism or body ideals or sexism. From stereotypical, historically racist earrings by major designers to its continuously excused use of blackface on white models, fashion to barely using black models in runway shows has somehow not gotten the memo that racial diversity exists and the racism is — to put it lightly — “so out.” Even Victoria’s Secret model Chanel Iman openly admits to dealing with racism in fashion.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Iman talked about the trials of being a black woman in an industry that largely favors white girls. Having already been vocal regarding the lack of African-American models in fashion, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear some of the things she has to say about the business. Nevertheless, her experiences are both depressing and upsetting.

When asked about whether racism is still an issue in fashion, she declines the question “diplomatically” at first. When pushed, however, she responds differently:

 “Yeah, most definitely,” she says forcefully. “A few times I got excused by designers who told me, ‘We already found one black girl. We don’t need you any more.’ I felt very discouraged. When someone tells you, ‘We don’t want you because we already have one of your kind,’ it’s really sad.”

The idea of a designer saying something like that is not remotely farfetched, but it is still incredibly disappointing. It’s as though they imagine having a little card and they get a stamp for each minority they use, thus allowing them to get a free get-out-of-jail card if anybody accuses them of being racist later on. “Nope! We used a black girl in that show, so it’s fine!” Except…it’s still not. It’s absolutely not fine.

Photographer Steven Meisel is quoted in the article as saying, “I’ve asked my advertising clients so many times, ‘Can we use a black girl?’ They say no. Advertisers say black models don’t sell.” I’ve heard this argument numerous times — that when people who are not white are used to advertise products, consumers believe that those products are specifically for the races used. However, this doesn’t give humanity enough credit to know that when somebody is advertising steak, unless it’s called “STEAKS FOR BLACKS AND MAYBE ASIANS,” it’s probably not going to have a racially indicated consumer base. Additionally, it’s ridiculous to go along with such a status quo; if there were simply more nonwhite models and actors used in advertising, it would become increasingly more “normal” and the whole fear of white consumers fleeing (because, you know, that’s apparently something people should feed into) would be null.

Nevertheless, Chanel Iman is optimistic.

“Things are improving. We have gone from no ethnic minority models in shows to ‘one’. We need to get past ‘one’ to more. There’s a greater consciousness of Asia and China, so we see more of those faces now. There needs to be a permanency [about] using black models. You still see all-white shows in Europe and New York… And don’t give us an all-black catwalk show. It doesn’t help us; it just puts us into a category.”

While there have been numerous wonderful firsts for black models in the past fifty years, fashion has to move forward. In so many ways, it’s an industry of innovation full of fast-paced change and futuristic ideas. All it needs to do is progress into the social present and it will truly become modern.

Photo: Pop/WENN.com

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  • haily

    Racism in the fashion industry is less racism and more about being visually biased. The Fashion Industry favors very fair, flawless, porcelain skin. The trendier makeup and the colors are going to look best on that kind of skin, and in turn, the ad will appeal to those buying the product – mostly white girls. On a slightly related note, I believe that Chanel Iman is so successful a model because she is not that black looking and therefore appeals more to the masses.

    • Jon

      not to mention that chanel is in victoria’s secret. i’m sure she’ll do fine.

    • RaptorSafari

      Holy shit I do not love you.

    • http://twitter.com/PrudenceNanou Prudence

      and by visually biased you mean racist. people, lets call a thing a thing. lets not try to word it weirdly. IT IS RACISM.

  • Sac

    I agree with Haily that crying racism in this situation is overly simplistic. Fashion is by its nature discriminatory, and the “job” is to present an objectified visual that sells product. Period. It’s not making widgets or any other kind of job that anyone can and should be able to do. Asian models are almost more prevalent than whites on some catwalks, and that has nothing to do with racial preference and everything to do with who the global customer is likely to be.

    • http://twitter.com/PrudenceNanou Prudence

      black women spend 20 billion dollars on fashion every year and you are telling me that there is no customer?? and also I do not know exactly what planet you are currently living on where asian models are ALMOST more prevalent than white but that is 120% WRONG. 83% of the models that walked the runways this seasons were white.9% were asian , 6% black and 2% latina. The thing is that fashion doesn’t even give a chance to these black models to see if they will sell, they assume. Liya kebede is one of the greatest models, she is black and has been ( still is) the face of the two largest cosmetic companies and you say black skin doesn’t sell? 5 years go, Vogue Italia did an all black issue, featuring only black models and was one of the highest selling Vogue of all time and you say black doesn’t sell? this isn’t about business and marketing this is racism.

    • judeska

      amen!!

    • Marvin Gibson

      I understand and love your comments. But as a consumer, it would benefit me more to know exactly what designers are using the “minimum” for black models just to say that they have used black models. Those companies are the companies that I don’t want to support anymore.

    • Prudence

      oh child the list is long as hell! Italian designers are the worst because there is such a low black population they don’t feel they need to be using black models altho they are international companies. Etro, Marni, MaxMara, Prada(!!!), Salvatore Ferragamo,Jil Sander ( this includes their menswear line)

      Paris: Lanvin, Valentino, Louis Vuitton, Margiela, Dries Van Noten.

      NYC: Diesel, The Row, Rag&Bone, Donna Karan, BCBG, Reed Krakoff, Calvin Klein…..

      Those are some of the biggest offenders.

  • Chelsea

    These comments just scream racism. You all are essentially sitting here and saying that fashion looks better on fair skin so it’s not your fault that black models aren’t used. And also that since she is “not that black looking” so she is more successful and appeals to people. Do you not see anything at all problematic with these views? Why are you all sitting here acting as if black people don’t like fashion or buy fashion?

    • RaptorSafari

      I love you.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sameurysm Samantha Escobar

      Agreed. I wasn’t sure how to phrase it, but I am so glad you did.