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.

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.

31 thoughts on “Eric Wilson in the New York Times: Fashion’s Ever Present Race Problem”

  1. Hello Claire great article!!! I share your sentiments in this piece. Even as a small time personal style blogger like myself I see this. To step out there and even get in with the local more experienced bloggers in my own community has been a struggle. I see the same people who pretty much look the same and have the same style at all the local blog events for retailers and companies.

    I think what we can do at this level is support each other. Support our black businesses, bloggers, fashion designers so own. Promote them and acknowledge that they are doing good jobs. Our community needs to collectively come together, and support each other.

  2. Nothing ever changes for the marginalized “from the top down.” These people are not selling to the Black customer. Or they don’t aspire to sell Black. so they aren’t going to put their clothes on Black bodies. We can NOT buy them, but who is really buying them in the 1st place? The ridiculously rich. And try to tell the rich anything….

  3. BRAVO on this piece Clarie!!! Besides being well written this is very thought provoking.

    I think as people rise to the top they care about these issues but the idea of a big check clouds these good intentions. In general, people people of color aren’t the main consumer and designers, editors, etc want to make the “majority” feel comfortable with people who look like them. Rappers and social figures of color are only that when it’s convenient, for the most part. If only they could drive attention to these important issues like they do to boost revenue. But that would be too uncomfortable. And no one likes to be uncomfortable.

  4. I agree with Serenity.

    (Slightly off topic) Ain’t it funny that once 1 gets rich/wealthy enough to afford expensive clothing & accessories that the designers GIFT you w/ their pieces??
    *cries broke girl tears in the office bathroom & then gets back to work promptly*

  5. Same old song, however Serenity has a great point. For the most part, we aren’t the ones spending millions on luxury goods from these fashion houses, black celebs only count for a small majority of us. They market to the ppl who are buying…it’s really a catch 22.

  6. Black people are the coolest people on the planet! Everyone knows this which is why they want the things we have, example: our features–curves, lips, skin tone, etc. I think to make a difference black people need to realize we own cool. We own the entertainment industry. Our influence is rampant!!!! We are in a position to start OWNING OUR COOL!!!! More artists need to start black owned labels, more wealthy black people need to start black centric/owned businesses, and then we can take over fashion.

    Claire, you need to be cloned! if more people were like you were originally then we would be fierce. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in diversity. When you started this blog, however, it catered more to black folk then you recently you incorporated other races. We still know this is a “urban” site though and you have never lost that (and PLEASE DON’T). I think if more black people in power thought like that, we would be great.

    As a black attorney, I often work with many cultures but I always put in the forefront that I went to a black law school and that at the end of the day I am a black woman.

  7. Kanye West said it best:
    “You see it’s broke n***a racism
    That’s that “Don’t touch anything in the store”
    And this rich n***a racism
    That’s that “Come in, please buy more”

  8. Great article. I agree with Serenity and DanielleS love the “Owning Our Cool”….I completely agree. The fashion industry as a whole will only ever cater to their customer base and it “ain’t” urban. They KNOW other races/cultures/ethnicities are out in the world, heck many designers “borrow” from ethnic cultures in their designs all the time. However, the very people they garner “inspiration” from they have no intention of selling to because most of us can’t afford the extremely high priced clothing. The only way they will EVER take notice is to affect their bottom line on a consistent basis. But to get people to lay off the Louboutins….I don’t see that happening.

  9. I don’t know why my comments don’t post sometimes. Anyway I agree with Serenity and DanielleS I love the “Owning Our Cool.” Until the fashion industry’s bottom line is affected in a Significant way, they will NEVER cater to any other ethnic group except the one that looks like them. There is No incentive whatsoever to change anything. If people quit buying up designer clothes by the buckets, then maybe someone might look up long enough to notice things need to change.

  10. One small problem with the statistics presented – The article you mention said ONLY 6% of the models were black. In the USA, the black population is under 13% of the entirety. Given that male/female ratio tends approx 50-50 – then 6% is pretty much an exact representation of the population.

    You look for offense – its all you’ll ever see in life.

    The article is a propaganda piece leading up to the election and a strong arm tactic being seen everywhere to ensure black democratic votes. AND YET – have you asked exactly what democrats have done for blacks? Poverty is worse now – single parent homes worse now – graduation rates FAR worse now than prior to Johnson’s “great society”. Democrats trumpet this farcial show that they support blacks – the very fact that they depend on your vote assures nothing will ever be done.

  11. @s.n Bratt, excuse my language but fuck your statistics. If you follow fashion you will realize that the black models that exist are not being used. You can preach propaganda all you want. However, from someone that has been openly discriminated against racism is real. The government is not setting anybody up but you if you say different.

  12. I deeply concur with danielles! You better preachhh it!! *sigh racism smh nevertheless claire grwat *great article!!!

  13. @S.N. Bratt if we used your logice, then the same should hold true for American prisons, diseases that disproportionately effect black people, right?

  14. To s.n.Bratt, first off poverty has increased for all Americans except the 1%. Second statistically single parent homes are not on the rise, actually for African American women the birth rate has declined, dummy.
    The real politics in this is white women existing in a hierarchy of power. With white men power was within the confines of money and politics (and then came Obama). With white women it is all about them being more beautiful than black women. Lets not forget we came from a history of being slaves and maids for white women, but the white man is solely accused of racism (and side bar I date outside of my race and I know this isn’t always true).
    In a nut shell white women do not want to compete with black women, that is why black women are excluded from campaigns and beauty ads. White women will not buy products to remain superior. However with Kerry Washington on the cover of ELLE and Zoe S on the cover of Allure just like with politics, that will ALL change. I feel a rumble coming on…

  15. *Confused side eye to @S.N. Bratt*

    Anyway, I think more celebs wearing pieces from more “visible minority” designers would make a difference. So does encouraging the Black Glitterati to make their own high-quality, non-exploitative lines.

    Finally, what Claire does here at FBD is, as we all agree, important. I enjoy shopping at the stores of some of the businesses featured here…many of them Black-owned.

  16. I don’t think that this problem will ever change. At the end of the day, these fashion brands are looking at their cash register and bottom down dollar signs.

    We all know that they don’t cater to us but to mostly rich caucasians that can indeed afford their hefty price tags.

    Black people can wish for the best but at the end of the day it is people’s heart that you have to change because that is where lies all their prejudices, ignorance and hatred towards us or other minorities

    On top of that, how do you change years of prejudice in a industry that is doing so well marketing to a demographic market by using white models. Who really wants to change a formula that has been working for years?

    This is sad and that is why I don’t run to buy designers goods, nor do I envy people wearing them. When I see people flaunting them and acting like a fool just because they are wearing this brand or that brand, I honestly don’t care.

  17. who cares if they don’t want black models?! like Jackie said, WE need to support each other and worry about ourselves! all THEY’LL do is chew you up and spit you out anyway!

  18. I don’t know if you read my email yesterday, but thanks for addressing this story. I was once a person into labels because I was into quality goods, but the deeper I get into fashion, the more my eyes are opened. It’s a real reality check when you look at the fact that we as blacks, view our worth on material things. Hopefully one day we will collectively wake up and support each other again.

  19. I think that what you are doing here makes a huge difference. Showcasing real people is uplifting for everyone. As a fashion newbie I didn’t have the funds to spend on magazines or the time to spend being inventive with fashion before but now because I worked really hard I have time to learn. I use your website and the visitor feedback as my main source of guidance.

    It would be nice to see more celebs taking a stand but I think for us, as women and people to support each other speaks more than one lone star. It creates a place for the next generation to obtain the information which can provide them with an opportunity to see people who look like them. I love that about this blog.

    Thank you to all who participate and make this place somewhere I always feel welcome. Even the people who are always trashing others. You to add value, nothing is perfect and criticism pushes us to be better. XOXO

  20. I know I’m late but I was moved to write this. There is no doubt that there is a lack of people who look like “us” in the fashion world. However, I also think it’s time that we stop expecting others to validate us and start accepting ourselves.

    If Prada or ,whomever the designer may be, does not acknowledge us then lets support our own designers or create our own fashion society that caters to black beauty just as our white counterparts have. We are so concerned about fighting to be equal that we’ve forgotten to love ourselves.

    Will the current state of the fashion world make any grand changes with the race issue? Who knows. But who cares. It’s time to get back to supporting each other and building our own in every aspect.

  21. Great article! I think celebs should support more African-American designers and maybe it can help give some more diversity in the fashion industry. There is not a lot of African-Americans or any other minorities when comes to modeling, styling or designing. Most designers use black artist or icons and even black culture as muses for their collections but they don”t use black models? I don’t understand. I hope something can change and I have faith it will.

  22. Another thing, I was just thinking about the battle of versailles fashion show in 1973, when American designers used 11 black models for that show. If a designer now would do a show like that now, I’m sure it would leave a huge impact.

  23. Great article Claire!! I agree with already mentioned statements from Serenity and DanielleS. And @JRDesignerLove Yes, Kanye said it best! This sad story has been for a very long time but I am very optimistic person. I believe change can come if everyone would pull together to make that change.

  24. I love to see articles like these!!! It is a problem that has far too long existed and been ignored. I have dreamt of modeling for years but because I am not mixed with anything and have a true african-american complexion I am never considered or reconsidered for some of the bigger agencies. I look through their online roster of models and the girls all look the same(not like me) or if they are of color, they are clearly mixed with another race! Its disheartening when people approach me and ask me why I have not considered modeling or why I dont model, when I literally have put so much effort, time, and money into it. As soon as they see my skin color it feels like an automatic deal closer!

  25. Awesome article. As someone who has always been interested in fashion and as a former model, I never realized that the industry was so un diverse! Personally, I feel that people of different races could bring a unique type of beauty/style to the fashion industry. It’s a fact that those of other races posses unique traits that could really enhance the runway. It’s too bad that more designers don’t seek out more models who are Native American, Latino/a, or African American.

  26. This really resonated with me! No one ever really pays close attention to keen details like this! Honestly, just like you brought this to our attention, it is up to celebrities, bloggers, etc and people with influence to set standards and refrain from supporting designers who won’t support their fellow sista who would have loved to model in their shows!

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