Fashion Week Discussion: Should Designers of Color Use Models of Color on The Runway?

Quite an interesting discussion erupted on Instagram when I posted a picture of Stella Jean‘s Fall 2014 collection, which showed today in Milan.

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Stella Jean Fall 2014

Instead of focusing on the bright African prints and lustworthy shoes, commenters were more dismayed at the lack of diversity on Stella’s runway.

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Stella Jean Fall 2014

Stella Jean, who is half Haitian and half Italian, is known for her vibrant kente and ankara printed separates, mixed with European menswear tailoring. She, however, didn’t use any black models in her Spring 2014 show. Out of 30 looks for Fall 2014, 3 were modeled by women of color.

A look from Stella Jean’s Spring 2014 Show

@SoulfulSwag wrote, “Who’s her audience? I hate when some African based designers only use Caucasian models! Are you afraid your clothing won’t sell if you actually use black models?”
stella jean fall 2014
@KidCadaver went on to look at Jean’s Instagram page, noting, “Stella Jeans IG, when viewed in the aggregate, looks odd for its overwhelming presentation of white models in ‘African’ inspired clothing.” @AsamPete added, “I just viewed her IG page and I must say I am disappointed in her lack of model diversity.

Stella Jean Instagram
A picture from Stella Jean’s Instagram

Bethann Hardison has been spearheading the movement for Diversity on the Runway since 2008. I agree that it would be nice to see a few more women of color on Stella’s runway, though she did use a handful this season.

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Stella Jean Fall 2014

The bottom line is: designers still believe that women of color, particularly black/brown women, can’t sell clothes. The common belief is also that black women are not the target luxury customer; they’re not the ones buying the bulk of merchandise, so why cater to them by including them in advertisements or in runway shows?
Models display creations of Prada Spring
We obviously know this line of reasoning is false. Still, this season in Milan, some of our favorite fashion houses, including Etro, Dolce & Gabbana, and rapper’s delight Versace only used one black model on their runways.

versace fall 2014
Versace Fall 2014

Perhaps Stella is simply following in the footsteps of her colleagues, keeping diversity to a minimum as to not ‘shake the table.’ Jean is based in Italy–perhaps she believes her runway models truly reflect her consumer base. Jean is also half white. Maybe she identifies more with her Caucasian lineage than her Haitian heritage, despite her design aesthetic.
The bottom line is: diversity is the ideal for us at The Fashion Bomb and for people like Bethann Hardison, Naomi Campbell, and Iman. It would be great if diversity were the ideal for all designers–especially those of color; especially since there are so few designers of African descent showing on an international scale.

Stella Jean with Anna Dello Russo
Stella Jean with Anna Dello Russo

But it’s clearly not a priority for everyone. And I guess that’s their prerogative.

Stella Jean Fall 2013

What do you think?
*See more of Stella Jean’s work under our Stella Jean tag.


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