• Fri, Sep 6 - 2:30 pm ET

Why Are All The Models White?

Dior's runway show is whitewashed

We all know fashion has a serious race problem. I mean, don’t we? From editorials depicting black children enslaved by white women to straight up blackface because there are obviously zero actual black models, there are an incredible number of examples regarding race issues in the fashion industry. Now, Bethann Hardison, a former modeling agency owner who’s on the front line for the fight against whitewashing, has started taking individual designers to task.

In a letter posted to Balance Diversity that’s been making the rounds today, Hardison calls out those powerful individuals and design houses in the fashion industry who are guilty of whitewashing their shows. The letter reads:

Eyes are on an industry that season after season watches fashion design houses consistently use of one or no models of color.

No matter the intention, the result is racism.

Not accepting another based on the color of their skin is clearly beyond “aesthetic” when it is consistent with the designer’s brand.

Whether it’s the decision of the designer, stylist or casting director, that decision to use basically all white models, reveals a trait that is unbecoming to modern society.

It can no longer be accepted, nor confused by the use of the Asian model.

Powerful.

The letter has been supported by both Naomi Campbell and Iman, and copies of it were sent to the “CDFA, the British Fashion Council, the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana in Milan and the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers and Créateurs de Mode in Paris.”

The Cut contacted several of the designers Hardison calls out — Versace, Prada, Georgio Armani, Chanel and many others — but only Daniel Silver of menswear designer Duckie Brown made a comment. According to Silver, the lack of diversity is the fault of modeling agencies:

“We cast our show based on the boys we see  — who is in town — and who fits the clothing best,” Silver says. For the spring 2014 show, for example, he and partner Steven Cox booked five models of color.

“Some seasons there are less — or none, or more, models of color,” Silver says. Indeed, the company once received plaudits from Hardison for its diverse runway.

“Take a look at all the shows we’ve done and you will see a wide range of men,” Silver says. “We feel that if the modeling agencies had a more diverse roster, our casting would in turn be more diverse.”

Personally, I think it is both designers’ and agencies faults, among others. If there was more of a demand for models of color, agencies would take more into their roster; if there were more in those agencies’ lineups, the designers would be more likely to choose models of color. Quibbling about it does nothing, though. Nevertheless, I am impressed that Silver responded — and deeply disappointed that none of the others did.

My personal two cents that nobody probably cares about: as I’ve mentioned a few times, I’m half-Latina. While my skin is skim milk white (it’s like being pale, but less healthy-looking), I still wish that there were more models of color because it’s incredibly depressing to look at a runway and realize that a designer didn’t think a single woman of color was “worth” putting in their show. People in my family rarely, if ever, see designers do anything with men and women who look like them, so they become disinterested — and who can blame them? When an industry as a whole decides to remain under some bizarre social spell from the 1800s, it becomes irrelevant to the present.

It shouldn’t be news that Dior finally cast its first black model in seven f’ing seasons. It shouldn’t be considered justification that makeup artists and stylists and photographers are less familiar with black models so it takes them longer to work — they’re less familiar with women of color because the industry has whitewashed itself. As writers, I feel we are responsible for bringing these issues onto the table for discussing; as consumers, I think we must make it clear that this isn’t acceptable.

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Photo: Getty Images.

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  • anna

    I realized that almost all the pictures of woman on my tumblr are white women, with a few asian thrown in being “sexy”.

    I follow very diverse blogs, so I realized that the majority of these photos are fashion photos. I’ve started looking up independant artists who use black models to post, but even then it’s always more race based than a simple shoot of a pretty girl wearing pretty clothes.

    It’s just so sad, mindlessly hitting reblog and there’s not even an option of black models.

  • funnyjello

    That last line in the letter “The use of The Asian Model” – I’m not comfortable with that verbiage. Are Asians suddenly not considered person’s of color as well? And why are they suddenly a proper noun?

    • Eileen

      It’s not “suddenly”; it’s kind of the way things are. Asians don’t get the privileges of being white, but we also don’t get to count as minorities.