Yesterday, I was sent a link to an online video by a friend and I have to say that it got me thinking. It didn’t show me anything I didn’t already know but it was thought provoking and it just made me a bit uneasy.
It depicted the journey of a young black Canadian model Renee Thompson who went around casting for jobs. She moved from Toronto to NYC to try to increase her chances of getting into the NY Fashion Week and of being booked for jobs but was still frustrated that her “white” counterparts with the same drive and motivation as herself were given more opportunities than she did.
In the industry, black models are seen to be too shapely because of our derrière and our curvy hips. Those who are “lucky” enough to look (straight noses, thinner lips, softer features, no butt, no hips) like white girls dipped in chocolate have a higher chance of making it in the industry than those with the more “African” features.
According to the industry, “black” does not sell and fashion is a business driven by money after all. Those who have the ready cash to spend are supposedly “white” people and the designers know who keep their business afloat; older white people with colonial mindset who spend absurd amount of money buying these designers items and who do not want their brand to be promoted by black or Asian models. Therefore, this is why they prefer using the white models!
But how can this be I keep asking myself. Don’t black people buy things? I use Garnier cleansing lotion, Bourjois makeup, perfumes, shoes, bags, clothes etc etc that are available in the market and why should I not see a face like mine being used to front their ad campaigns? Black people (black girls especially) are the vainest girls on this earth in my opinion! Do they not know how much black girls can spend just to look good? From their hair (let me not even go there), to their makeup, their nails, to their clothes, shoes, bags etc, they will spend even when they can’t afford it!! So why is this industry completely ignoring our spending power and sidelining us? Especially in these years with the growth in media and IT, black people are acquiring more and more wealth. There are a lot of successful black entrepreneurs now with the ready cash to spend so why do they think we are incapable?
Okay, so maybe we do not need to look into the “white” market to validate our spending power as they do not want to believe we are capable of buying, fine! I remember the commotion Tommy Hilfiger caused when he blatantly refused to acknowledge the fact that we were the ones keeping his label alive. When we boycotted, he felt it and he learnt.
Maybe we need to look into the “black” market and create our own industry that truly and unashamedly reflects us. I looked at Sean Coombes’ popular Sean John label which is doing fantastically well internationally. I decided to do a little research to see which colour models they have used in their campaigns and the majority was black. I looked at Nelly’s Apple Bottom Jeans campaigns and it features light skinned black models. The emerging fashion market in Africa seems filled with black models but I am unsure if given the choice the designers would prefer a white model? Fashion is a business after all driven by money as they say, so I am unsure yet again.
I decided to go back in time and looked at fashion back in the days, there existed a time where black models (very few of them then) where highly regarded by the big international fashion brokers. Katouche Niane the French Guinean model found dead in 2008 in Paris was once the muse of Yves Saint Laurent. Iman back in the 80’s was a YSL muse for a collection inspired by Africa and Naomi Campbell followed suit a few years ago. Yves Saint Laurent was the first major designer to use black models in his catwalk shows, not sure if his Algerian heritage had anything to do with it.
Back in the days, black models also fronted major ad campaigns for these big brands. Waris Dirie fronted the Allure by Chanel perfume campaign in the 80’s followed by Yasmin Warsame and then another black model in the 2000’s. Brandi Quinones fronted a Chanel campaign back in the 90’s while Liya Kebede was in D&G and Lanvin ads. Back in 1966 Donyale Luna an Andy Warhol muse apparently became the first ever black model on a Vogue cover for British Vogue.
Given the progress that seemed evident in this “look” industry, what happened in these last years I ask myself? We are far more diversified, more people are wealthy and have disposable cash and a lot of people travel around and they see other cultures and other people and many of the major designers cite inspiration from Africa but why is this not being reflected in the representation? Will there ever be a time where the black and Asian models are given the same opportunities as their white counterparts? According to one model agent, models are cast depending on the client’s target market. So for example if she gets a call from a client from Mexico, they will want Latina models rather than black or white. According to this agent it is not about the colour of their skin but their features.
Do all black models have to look like white girls dipped in chocolate then to succeed in the modelling industry?
Watch the video here