Black Models Matter

By Divya Shastri

In spite of the incredible successes of models such as Tyra Banks, Iman, Naomi Campbell and Jordan Dunn, the fashion industry is still unable to cater to the needs of black models. Recently at Paris Fashion Week, model Londone Myers called out stylists in a now viral Instagram post for not being able to work with her natural hair. In a time-lapse video, Myers is shown waiting to get her hair done while the white models around her are all being tended to. According to Myers, who has walked for high fashion brands like Dior and Prada, the stylists were avoiding doing her hair. Myers stated she shouldn’t go down the runway with a “linty busted ass afro” and that if this were to happen to a white model the stylist would have been fired.

A similar story was posted to Instagram in 2015 by South Sudanese model Nykhor Paul. The post detailed how makeup artists did not know how to work with models of darker complexions. In her letter, Paul detailed many brands that do carry products for her “blue-black complexion” asserting that “there are so many options for darker skin tones”. But still, she was made to bring her own products to the show, unlike any of the other models. Similarly to Myers, Paul stated, “Just because you only book a few of us doesn’t mean you have the right to make us look ratchet.”

Indi Irvin, a U.K based Model, protested at Paris Fashion Week with MSA models outside the Balenciaga show holding up a sign that translated to “ Black Models Matter”. In addition to her protest in Paris, Irvin pointed out that in Gucci’s show at Milan Fashion week only 17 models of colour walked the runway out of 119 models.

Models such as Leomie Anderson have also drawn attention to these issues. Anderson did not shy away from discussing the issue when taking to Twitter in September, talking about how she went for an 8:40 am fitting along with six other white girls, watched them get selected and was told to go home along with a tanned Brazilian model, after a mixed-race girl with curly hair was selected to “fill the quota”. According to The Daily Mail, she talked about it on BBC’s ‘Women’s Hour’, mentioning that she is speaking up now to “stand up for the other young girls who are coming up in the industry”. She also recounted being a young model and dealing with issues such as stylists being unwilling to do her hair and having ashy makeup.

Yet, despite all these problems, there seems to be no issue when designers take from black culture while leaving black individuals behind. This was seen in Marc Jacobs’ 2016 New York Fashion Week show when Jacobs used faux locks in his Ready to Wear show, appropriating black aesthetics for the second time after having had models in 2015 wear Bantu knots, which were stylized as ‘mini buns’. Fashion house Gucci came under attack this May for copying African American designer Dapper Dan’s designs in their menswear show -a Harlem designer who responded to high-end brands rejecting to send stock to his store by creating his own versions of their labels. In May 2017 Valentino had a collection “inspired by wild, tribal Africa” which featured animal prints modelled mainly by white women (only 8 of the 87 models were black) who wore cornrows.

Clearly, there is an issue when you don’t cater to black models yet simultaneously take from their culture. One might have been able to excuse such behaviour if a majority of the models in the shows were black. But since they aren’t, it looks as if they are being told that even aspects of their own culture look better on other races.

This isn’t to negate the changes that have occurred in the fashion industry, but to bring to light important issues and to make sure that change is brought about. Hopefully, we will continue to see growth occur in the industry, and inclusivity will no longer be a rarity but the norm.

Illustration: Katie Butler 

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