Eric Wilson in the New York Times: Fashion’s Ever Present Race Problem

In an article titled Fashion’s Blind Spot, New York Times writer Eric Wilson gives an update on fashion’s persistent race problem. He speaks to the usual suspects–Bethann Hardison, Iman, and Veronica Webb to name a few–about the dearth of black models, saying, “Despite a history of polite and often thoughtful discussions…there are still many designers and casting agents who remain curiously blind to black models, or unmoved by the perception that fashion has a race problem in the first place.”
fashion race problem
This time around, the paper moves on to interview editors, including W Magazine’s fashion and style director Edward Enninful, who tweeted during Couture Week, “If all my (white) counterparts are seated in the front row, why should I be expected to take 2nd row? racism? xoxo” Enninful explained, “Change always takes time. The fashion industry needs to breed a whole different way of thinking. We need more diverse people working in all facets of the industry.”
As with her Blacks in Fashion talks in the past, Bethann Hardison is going the activism route to address the issue, launching a social media campaign during Fashion Week geared towards exposing brands like Céline and Prada who rarely use black models in their shows. Hardison explained, “I wonder if that would make [consumers] have second thoughts about buying the shoes, the accessories and the bags.” Iman added, “If you engage the social media, trust me, it will hurt them in their pockets. If you take it out there, they will feel the uproar.” We can only hope.
Models display creations of Prada Spring
I’ve been reporting on issues of race in fashion since I started Fashion Bomb Daily in 2006, and the lack of change is disheartening and slightly ludicrous. On a forum like ours, we do our best to give you thorough, informative, and professional content from a multicultural point of view.
diversity joan smalls cara delevigng liu wen
As a blogger, I feel the stings of racism as well, particularly during Fashion Week. While my white and Asian counterparts seem to always get front row treatment, I am relegated to standing room if I am invited at all (not to speak of our staff). Numbers? We got it. Visibility and Industry cred? We’ve got that, too. We cover all sorts of designers from hood to haute couture, multiple times a day. Still, the door to entry and access seems to be firmly closed and dead bolted shut.
bryan boy hanneli bloggers-frontrow
It’s hard to say what the solution might be. Boycotting brands or ‘exposing’ them might be effective, but in a world where stars set the trends and the purveyors of cool broadcast their sartorial tastes to the sound of sick beats, how can models, bloggers, or editors tell people not to buy, say, a Céline bag, when Kanye West is name dropping Phoebe Philo is his raps, and everyone from the Kardashians to Nene Leakes is slinging around a Phantom? (Note: according to Wilson, Céline has not used a black model in a runway show since Ms. Philo became the designer in 2009).
If fashion is truly going to change, it’s going to have to be from the top down, and include people who have the most influential voices in our culture. If Prada can’t include a black model for their runway show, or needs to wait 20 years to cast a woman of color in a campaign, how about stylish women in the public eye take a stand–and just say no to Prada?
It can’t just be us–there has to be a more systematic boycott–if that were ever going to happen. But, as I mentioned in our Discussion Post on Whether Rappers Devalue Brands: just as rappers will buy and rap about what they like, socialites and celebs will do the same. Unless they care to effect change in a real way.

Kanye West and Phoebe Philo of Céline
Kanye West and Phoebe Philo of Céline

Fashion may seem frivolous, but Veronica Webb might have had the most poignant quote in Wilson’s piece when she said, “[Fashion] is where a lot of young women get their idea of beauty from. When you see someone that looks like you it makes women feel beautiful, and it makes women feel they belong.”

celine fall 2013 final walk no black models
What do you think?
See Wilson’s full article here.


Claire Sulmers is the publisher and founder of Fashion Bomb Daily, the #43 most influential style blog in the world.