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Kristin Booker • August 31, 2009

Editor's Thoughts: Where Are All The Black Models?

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Photo credit: Photo by Oktay Cilesiz/AA/Cameleon/ABACAPRESS.COM Photo via Newscom

I just read some news pieces from one of my favorite sites, Fashionologie, about Naomi Campbell’s comments regarding the fact that she feels the industry is sliding backwards in their placement of black models on the covers of major magazines. In a recent interview with the UK Telegraph, she says,

“This year, we have gone back all the way that we had advanced,” she says. “I don’t see any black woman, or of any other race, in big advertising campaigns.”

Campbell, ever-outspoken, goes on to address the special edition of Italian Vogue from last year that highlighted models of color, stating, “That made some noise, but, unfortunately, we are the same as before,” she says. “People, in the panic of the recession, don’t dare to put a girl of colour in their campaign, full stop. Nor of any other race. It’s a shame. It’s very sad.”

As Naomi is about to hit her 25th anniversary in the world of modeling, it seems that her support base is not there as it once was. I reported earlier that Yves Saint Laurent famously threatened to pull all of his advertising if Naomi wasn’t given the cover of French Vogue and Naomi’s famous supermodel counterparts, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington, also protected her and famously threatened not to do shows unless Naomi could come as well. I hope that camaraderie is not completely lost but she does have a point: how many black models (or models of anything other than Caucasian descent) have you seen in advertising lately for luxury goods? I’m not talking about celebrities. I mean models.

It will be interesting to see if the $1 trillion dollars of spending that black women reportedly account for now will demand the shift happen again. We see diversity in ads for mass market brands but other than jewelry or alcohol-related purchases, why does it seem such a risk to show a Black woman living a luxurious lifestyle in the apparel and accessories befitting her status?

We’ve even taken swipes at our own First Lady if she wears anything that might be too expensive. Every time she wears something over a certain amount of money, people claim that she’s “losing touch with her public.” My gut instinct is that a black woman in power wearing couture makes people nervous, that it’s somehow offensive or unrealistic. It’s just silly: women of color are making huge strides in the world and they should dress accordingly. We have a black First Lady wearing Jason Wu, Isabel Toledo, Thakoon and Michael Kors. The rightful place of all women is truly where we dream we can be, not where some lack of image tells us we can’t go.

You may ask, why is it important that a black woman be on the cover of a major fashion magazine, why all the fuss? Because in an image-driven world, young women of color are bombarded by images on a daily basis that say, “This could be you someday.” Without aspirational branding and images that show women of color highlighted as powerful tastemakers, we must work extra-hard to reinforce the message that it is possible for a woman of color to reach this level.

Naomi has a point and my question to the $1 trillion spenders out there and to the companies who I suppose don’t care that their customer base will eventually erode as the world demographic changes: who will make the demand for change? Most important, how soon?

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