Ignoring Diversity, Runways Fade to White By GUY TREBAY 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. Skip to next paragraph Enlarge This Image Photograph by Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters; photo Illustration by The New York Times THE LINEUP At recent spring shows, black models were scarce or nonexistent, including at the Chloé show in Paris, above. Multimedia Audio Slide Show A Review of Paris Fashion Week Audio Slide Show A Wrap-Up: London and Milan Fashion Weeks Complete Coverage Paris Fashion Week Coverage of the European Fashion Weeks from London, Milan and Paris, including reviews, Cathy Horyn's blog and photographs. Blog On the Runway Cathy Horyn discusses Lanvin's designer, Alber Elbaz, responds to comments and more. Firstview FRESH FACE Honorine Uwera was hired for five New York shows, too few to justify a trip to Europe. 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 womens 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 TargetMarketNews.com, 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 Style.com during the New York runway season, which ended a month ago, more than a third employed no black models, according to Womens 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 Chloé and Chanel made it appear as if someone had hung out a sign reading: No Blacks Need Apply. Its the worst its ever been, said Bethann Hardison, a former model who went on to start a successful model agency in the 1980s that promoted racial diversity. AMONG the people she represented were Naomi Campbell and Tyson Beckford, the chiseled hunk who broke barriers in the 1990s by becoming the unexpected symbol of the country-club fantasia that is a Ralph Lauren Polo campaign. Its heartbreaking for me now because the agents send the girls out there to castings and nobody wants to see them, said Ms. Hardison, referring to black models. And if they do, theyll call afterward and say, Well, you know, black girls do much better in Europe, or else black girls do much better in New York, or we already have our black girl. Last month in New York, Ms. Hardison convened a panel of fashion experts at the Bryant Park Hotel to discuss The Lack of the Black Image in Fashion Today, an event she will reprise Monday at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street. Modeling is probably the one industry where you have the freedom to refer to people by their color and reject them in their work, she said. The exclusion is rarely subtle. An agent for the modeling firm Marilyn once told Time magazine of receiving requests from fashion clients that baldly specified Caucasians only. The message is not always so blatant these days, but it is no less clear. Take for example the case of two young models, one white, one black, both captivating beauties at the start of their careers. Irina Kulikova, a feline 17-year-old Russian, appeared on no fewer than 24 runways in New York last month, a success she went on to repeat in Milan with 14 shows, and in Paris with 24 more. Honorine Uwera, a young Canadian of Rwandan heritage, was hired during the New York season for just five runway shows. While Ms. Uweras showing was respectable, it was not enough to justify the cost to her agency of sending her to Europe, where most modeling careers are solidified. We represent a lot of ethnic girls, said Ivan Bart, the senior vice president of IMG Models, which represents a roster of the commercially successful models of the moment, among them black superstars like Alek Wek, Ms. Campbell and Liya Kebede. We have new girls, too, Mr. Bart added, young comers like Ms. Uwera, Quiana Grant and Mimi Roche. We include them in our show package, give them the same promotion as any other girl, and get the same responses: Shes lovely, but shes not right for the show. Although, in fact, Ms. Roche and Ms. Grant, both black, were seen on runways in the last five weeks, the reality was that only one black model worked at anything like the frequency of her white counterparts: Chanel Iman Robinson, 17, who is African-American and Korean. Particularly in Milan and Paris, Ms. Robinsons was often the only nonwhite face amid a blizzard of Eastern European blondes. It is not just a handful of genetically gifted young women who are hurt by this exclusion. Vast numbers of consumers draw their information about fashion and identity from runways, along with cues about what, at any given moment, the culture decrees are the new contours of beauty and style.