LIZ JONES FASHION THERAPY
Is the fashion industry racist? Yes – and it goes right to its core
By LIZ JONES Taken from the MAIL Online
Last updated at 8:01 AM on 13th June 2011
What are we to make of yet another series of damaging headlines for fashion?
After the revelation that John Galliano nursed hatred for Jews comes the news that the hairdresser James Brown — an influential figure in fashion given his long collaboration with Kate Moss — used the ‘N’ word.
Both Galliano and Brown have swiftly apologised. Their ignorance could be seen as isolated incidences. But the truth is that behind the headlines there is something much more sinister and, ultimately, more damaging and institutionalised going on in fashion.
I’ve not long returned from the resort collections for 2012. At Chanel, not a single black model walked among nearly 60 girls.
At Yves Saint Laurent, only one black model was on the catwalk: Marihenny Passible, an incredibly beautiful Dominican woman. And if you look at the covers of fashion magazines, you’d think Britain was still as ethnically undiverse as it was in the Fifties.
Yes, of course, we see Beyoncé on many magazine covers and actress Thandie Newton has graced the cover of InStyle. Both women have landed lucrative ad campaigns: Beyoncé at L’Oréal, Thandie at Olay.
But these women are always so airbrushed, their hair ironed within an inch of its life, that they look almost white.
The problem is, as one black model puts it: ‘Fashion is still ghettoising those of us with very dark skin. Beyoncé is always made to look so much paler than she really is that I don’t really relate to her.’
So far in 2011, not one black face has appeared on the cover of British Vogue. In fact, the last time British Vogue had a black woman on the cover was in November 2008.
While in its June 2001 issue, Vogue published a feature entitled The Arrival Of The Asian Supermodels, in that issue there was not one black or Asian model in an editorial fashion or beauty photograph. (A Japanese-inspired shoot entitled Neo Geisha uses a white model, Guinevere Van Seenus.)
Alex Shulman, the editor of British Vogue, denies that there is any discrimination going on. ‘I don’t think that fashion is institutionally racist in the slightest.
‘There have always been black players on the scene — at the moment look at the stylist Edward Enninful, make-up artist Pat McGrath and [models] Jourdan Dunn, Liya Kebede and Joan Smalls, who are at the top of the tree.
In a society where the mass of the consumers are white and where, on the whole, mainstream ideas sell, it’s unlikely there will be a huge rise in the number of leading black models. If you look at the characters that sell magazines such as Grazia and Heat, it is Jennifer Aniston, Cheryl Cole and Catherine Middleton.’
Should we be concerned that Vogue is so selective?
Well, it remains true that where it leads, others follow. If a model lands British Vogue, her career is made in terms of more lucrative advertising campaigns.
For a black model to succeed, she needs a powerful protector. Naomi Campbell was championed by the late designer, Gianni Versace.
Unfortunately, the number of designers who think as he did are thin on the ground. Stella McCartney is a rarity in that she always casts diverse models.
I talked to Carole White, who founded Premier Model Management in 1981.
Her London-based agency is one of the most ethnically diverse, with 15 per cent of the models on her books coming from non-white backgrounds.
‘At the high end, it is slightly better now. But in the mid-range — the catalogues, the e-commerce websites — it is difficult. They want girls who are ethnic, but light-skinned girls. If a girl is very dark, they say no.’
Carole says the problem stems from the influential fashion capitals of Milan and Paris.
‘There, they absolutely don’t want black girls. A black model has to be a real star before you can take her there. They only take a black girl when the biz is buzzing about her.’
Carole believes the lack of ethnic diversity is the fault of the photographers as well as those at the top of the big brands.
The famous photographers are powerful and can make or break a model, often choosing who they want in an advertising campaign. ‘A lot of photographers don’t know how to light a black girl,’ she tells me.
‘We never get Asian girls, it is really rare to get an Indian girl.’
Demand for Vogue rocketed by 654 per cent when its ‘black issue’ hit newsagents in 2008
Carole most famously represented Naomi Campbell for most of her career.
She says: ‘Clients never wanted to pay Naomi as much as the white girls. It was always a battle.’
Why? ‘She was just as famous as the other supers, so who knows why.’
Alex Shulman says she will soon be featuring two black women on the cover of British Vogue. ‘I don’t want to discuss who I wish to have on the cover, but there are at least two black figures in the pipeline,’ she says.
But why does it matter who graces the cover of Vogue or Elle or that ad campaign?
Well, we need to see ourselves reflected: our skin, our shape, our age. Young women need to know they are beautiful, no matter what colour their skin, how kinky their hair.
The black model I quoted at the start of this piece sums it up: ‘I was being made up and I heard the make-up artist say that my skin was “so chalky”.
‘It’s not chalky, you just need to know what to put on it. We need more of us, so the industry changes, and stops making us feel like we stick out.’