Sometimes, it seems as if the problem of diversity and racism in fashion is one that will never be resolved, but that’s not stopping the Diversity Coalition from holding the industry at large responsible. The organization, helmed by former model and current activist Bethann Hardison, reached out to some of fashion’s most powerful people to address the issue head-on.
In a series of letters addressed to fashion’s governing bodies in the US, France, UK, and Italy, the Diversity Coalition takes each to task about the continued marked lack of black models on the runways season after season. Each epistle was posted to Balance Diversity, a WordPress blog that seems to have been created only yesterday. The CFDA, BFC, Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, and the Chambre Syndicale received the following letter:
Eyes are on an industry that season after season watches fashion design houses consistently use of one or no models of color.
No matter the intention, the result is racism.
Not accepting another based on the color of their skin is clearly beyond “aesthetic” when it is consistent with the designer’s brand.
Whether it’s the decision of the designer, stylist or casting director, that decision to use basically all white models, reveals a trait that is unbecoming to modern society.
It can no longer be accepted, nor confused by the use of the Asian model.
Shots fired! The BFC has already put forth a response to British Vogue, claiming no responsibility for the actions of designers and casting agents, asserting that they do encourage diversity on the runway to those designers under their umbrella:
“The British Fashion Council does not organise model castings for London Fashion Week although, as its governing body, strongly asserts that all participating designers should recognise that London is one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world and should consider reflecting this demographic at their shows and presentations. The BFC is committed to model welfare and is more than happy to engage in tackling any issues regarding best practice and diversity at London Fashion Week.”
As for the CFDA, CEO Steven Kolb and President Diane Von Furstenberg have already discussed the letter, with Kolb saying that the firm had already sent out two e-mails to their designers, encouraging them to add a little color to their casts this season. “If the coalition, Bethann or whoever feels the message needs to be stronger, then we are happy to meet and to be part of that discussion,” he told WWD.
Unsurprisingly, the French and the Italians didn’t take too kindly to the note. Chambre Syndicale president Didier Grumbach called it “unreasonable,” citing the diversity of their designers showing later this month as proof that the French are committed to diversity. According to him, the fact that the designers come from 22 different nations covers any threat of racism.
Mario Boselli, head of Italy’s Camera della Moda, says they have no control over what their designers do, and therefore cannot be held responsible for the lack of brown faces on their runways. Indeed, Italy has been criticized for their notoriously whitewashed runways, and it seems that even though Milan Fashion Week continues to be one of the least diverse of Fashion Month, it hasn’t been an issue they care to address:
“The Camera della Moda has always allowed its members complete freedom to decide autonomously. As the Camera avoids all discriminations, it suggests to fashion companies to avoid discrimination, but it can’t impose anything. The Camera has taken action against showing models that are too young or too slim on the runway, in an antianorexia effort, and penalizes those companies that are found at fault, but has never [deliberated] on skin color.”
Of course, as a black woman in fashion who happens to write for a blog committed to showcasing and bringing diversity to the industry, I’m in full agreement with the words of the Diversity Coalition. I hope that with this letter, designers at least try to make some sort of commitment to fixing the problem, but based on past adventures in racism, I have a hard time believing that the fashion world at large will stop making excuses and start actually trying to change something.
How many times have we heard of black models being shut out of opportunities because another black model had already been cast for a show or campaign, and the designer has ‘filled their quota?’ How many editorials featuring white models painted brown have we seen in the past few years? How many black women have secured major campaigns for top brands? Let’s go even deeper: where are all the black editors at top fashion magazines? Why are there so few?
Of course, there are those designers who consistently feature black women on the runway: Givenchy, Zac Posen, and Jean Paul Gaultier are just a few, but there are countless high-end brands who seem to completely ignore the fact that brown folks exist. How many black models have you seen on the runway for coveted labels like Alexander McQueen, Céline, or Prada?
All in all, hopefully this letter can be a catalyst for further discussion, but until we start actually seeing more brown faces, as opposed to paying lip service to the idea, I’m not going to hold my breath for any sort of change.
But, that’s just my opinion. What do you guys think?