During Fashion Week, each designer makes a visual and political statement with what they show on the runway. No, not the elaborate and innate designs but the people that bring the collections to life: the models. Usually slender, boasting long gams and torsos. And white. Yes, white.
It doesn’t matter the designer’s race or ethnicity, the majority of models cast during Fashion Week are white or Asian, usually anything but black. Let’s look at the numbers. This past New York Fashion Week featured 137 shows. Out of that there were 5,269 looks. Of that amount only 384 black models were used. Diane Von Furstenberg, Rachel Roy, Nicole Miller and Elie Tahari were among those that featured black models; however BCBG, Max Azria, Herve Leger, Vera Wang and a host of others did not.
French designer Sophie Theallet caused quite a ruckus in the fashion industry when she cast all black models for her Spring 2009 show. She insisted that she wasn’t trying to make a political statement; she simply thought the colors used in her collection looked better on darker skin. Designer Ruben Singer‘s 2008 show was criticized for “going too ethnic”. The reason? The overwhelming number of black models used.
Then, there is Tracy Reese. An African-American designer who is very vocal about the need for diversity on the runway but as of late hasn’t cast as many black models as she does of those of Asian descent. While one can argue that black designers who don’t cast all black models are just focusing on the clothes and not race, the question remains: shouldn’t they take racism against models into account since they’re in a position to make a difference?
New York Fall 2011 Fashion Week was the least racially diverse since 2008. Out of the 5,269 looks debuted, 4,468 were modeled by white women. That means nearly 84.8% of the models featured were white. Should black designers feel obligated to give black models a platform when the odds are stacked so aggressively against them?
Is it the responsibility of designers to provide black models with jobs just because they are black? Is an all-black cast a step toward diversity or does it promote segregation? What about a white designer who only casts Black models? Is it fetishization or a step toward racial inclusion?