Runways Fade to White

  1. Ignoring Diversity, Runways Fade to White


    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.
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    [​IMG] 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.


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    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 women’s 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, 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 during the New York runway season, which ended a month ago, more than a third employed no black models, according to Women’s 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.
    “It’s the worst it’s 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.
    “It’s 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, they’ll 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. Uwera’s 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: ‘She’s lovely, but she’s 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. Robinson’s 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.
  2. I find it very sad that in this day and age these kinds of things are still going on......
  3. This is absolutely not surprising. Consider the source really. Most fashion shows gear their clothing to wealthy caucasian upper class women. They have an image as to who would wear the clothes and African American Women usually do not fit the designer's vision. It really is very disturbing that we place so much credibility for these design houses when all they are doing is creating problems for diversity and for eating disorders. It is absolutely sad to hear about the runway and the ideals of what is considered beautiful. I think if enough people protest for normal healthy women and for more diversity, and if we stopped buying the clothes, it would hurt the fashion designers the most in their pockets. But because we are such a label conscious society, we will probably not stop buying their clothes, thus causing more of a diversity and eating disorder wedge between the designer's vision and society's reality.
  4. Very sad. They probably do gear more towards wealthy Caucasians but do they (industry) really think that people won't buy clothing because a black model is modeling them? Just ridiculous. We've come so far, but we have a LOOOOG way to go.
  5. The race issue is so incredibly out of hand in the United States, it makes me sick. You have issues like this with African Americans as well as Asians(I rarely see Asian models.) You have issues where colleges consider race for acceptance. You also have the college fund especially for African Americans, there doesn't seem to be one for Asians, Native Americans, or Caucasians. You also have the BET channel, which is also racist because it is separating a race and favoring one race. You have Arabs being discriminated against on airplanes. There are many many other instances.
    What bothers me is when people hear "racial issues" the very first thing that comes to mind is prejudice against African Americans, and a lot of people don't seem to understand that racism just as bad against African Americans also exists for all the other races! While that is true in a lot of cases, there is also great prejudice and racial issues out there among Asians, Caucasians, Arabs, Native Americans, etc. But those issues seem to be overlooked, which only contributes to racial tension.
    One unpleasant experience is one day I was in the grocery store. There was a woman with a cart in front of a shelf where I wanted to get a can of something, and her mother was on the other side looking at something else. I politely said excuse me, she didn't move her cart. I asked politely again if I could get in real quick, her mother came over started getting mad and ended up calling me a racist b***h.:wtf: I was shocked as I didn't do anything to make them mad??!!! I just politely said excuse me!!!!:confused1: I am still puzzled by that situation, and that situation is a good example as to how alive racial problems are today. By the way, the woman who called me that was African American and I am Caucasian.
    Another good example is that rather recent devasting incident in west virginia where those Caucasians people tortured that African American woman. WTH is wrong with people nowaday!!!:cursing: That incident still makes me unbeilievable sad.
    There are so many instances out there how many different races are favored over another, but nothing really seems to be done about it. How did it get so out of control in the US. In other countries, you don't notice it as bad, but it does exist in other countries.
    I really really wish that people would instead see everyone as equal and finally quit bringing every situation to race, and considering race in many instances. It makes me so mad, there are so many injustices among all races/ethnicities and so much racial tension. For anyone to say that there isn't many race problems today really need to open their eyes and get out of the sheltered lives and realize how bad it is. I wish and hope for one day where there is equality among all races, situations like these are absolutely unnacceptable.
  6. Thanks for sharing this article, Ali! It did occur to me that lately the runway models look like nondescript mannekins or "androids" as one person in the article observed. I miss the days when Tyra, Iman and other Black models brought much more color (and unique BEAUTY!) to fashion.
  7. \

    Wow, the lady who said that to you in the store was clearly deranged.
    And I agree with you that when people think race issues the majority of the time they do think African Americans, which isn't fair to other race that are discriminated against.

    But have to disagree with you on the BET channel being racist. Marketing toward a specific group to me has nothing to do with racism or sexism. MTV mainly markets toward the younger crowd, Spike TV leans more to men, Lifetime towards older woman /Moms. Univison, etc... I think it's the name BET (Black Entertainment Television) that people don't like. If you think about it it's the same as NBC. NBC basically have all majority white casts on their shows. They do have cast members of other races, and so does BET shows ( Wayns Brothers, Comic View, The Parkers, The Jefferson, Sandford & Sons etc...).

    Now, those raunchy videos they show I can't defend. :nogood:
  8. Though I am not disagreeing with the message portrayed in this article, I find that the different experiences between the Russian and Rwandan model are bad examples. You cannot use a single instance as a general example in this issue.

    Both models could have had other characteristics that attributed to their successes and failures.
  9. ethnic girls? As if white women don't have an ethnicity? :rolleyes: