Monday, July 28, 2008

All the Models are Black, (Nearly) All the Ads are White

So it has finally happened. Thanks to the beautiful and talented Camille, I now have a copy of Vogue Italia's much discussed ode to the black model. My feelings about this issue have run the gamut from excitement to reserve to disappointment and back again as spread after spread was leaked onto the Internet.

Yes, there was animal print. No there were not many advertisements with black models in them. Yes it is all in Italian. No I can't read it. Yes that pisses me off.

The first few pages of the magazine are full of ads that represent the Who's Who of top fashion labels. There's Valentino, Prada, Gucci, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana and Chanel. All of the ads featuring white models and actresses. Ad sales in this issue were up 30% according to WWD. That just doesn't happen with summer magazines. Even telephone book sized upcoming September issues are feeling the pinch with American Vogue's 50 page drop from last year and an overall page decline of 4%. Clearly these advertisers anticipated that the (gimmick maybe?) presence of black faces would translate into big sales. They were right. For the first time ever, the issue is being reprinted to meet demand. But to me it seems there is still a disconnect.

So what about those pictures? There were new faces (including Hollis) in the comp card "You Have a Go-see" spread and a line-up of "Hey, I recognize that face!" photos in the "Modern Luxe" spread. There was Tocarra, and Naomi and Liya and Chanel.

A few phenomenal looking spreads, a few dull ones. Lots of pictures of lonely models. With Meisel snapping all the pics there is only one point of view represented. There's none of Thierry Le Gouès sensuality or Tim Walker's dreaminess and color. There's just what Meisel gives us in this cattle call for the ages.

Solo images. A camera flash and you're in. I can almost hear Meisel's assistant ticking off the names as the models line up in this high fashion mugshot to get registered on Vogue Italia's pristine pages. Old faces. Legendary faces, Newer faces. Click and they're done. Here's your toaster. Thank you for being our Negress under glass.

Most of these women don't even get props to work with. Just a colorless background and if they're lucky, clothes. I mean, wouldn't it have really been something if Toccara was wearing something from a fall collection? I did wonder why the mechanics in her spread appeared to be Latino instead of a racially mixed group or even just black guys. All I have to say is that I never want to be hanging around in a garage or the trunk of a car in my skivvies. Not even with the guys from Car Talk.

Naomi's spread is solo. In it she's reduced to looking like a Russian billionaire's Desperate Housewife or better yet modern day Marie Antoinette without lavish wardrobe or the friends.

Which brings me back to the articles. There are many touching on everything under the sun: There's Michelle Obama, Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna," an interview with Naomi Campbell highlighting her humanitarian side, a profile on Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' upcoming book and HBO documentary "The Black List," a profile on Essence and Ebony magazines, a look-back at Donyale Luna by fashion photographer Edmonde Charles-Roux, an interview with (South?) African jazz musician Simphiwe Dana, an article about modern black artists, a two page article on Tyra Banks the mogul , another article profiles models Carol La Brie, Pat Cleveland, and Donyale Luna, Grace Jones, and then another profile of "Outstanding Ladies" like Aretha, Tina and Latifah. Lastly, there is a conversation with Bethanne Hardison by Veronica Chambers.

By the time I'm done flipping through the magazine, I'm angry that it's full of articles I want to read but can't and probably never will (Bablefish will only get you so far) because I know that there isn't a fashion and lifestyle publication written in English that would bother to publish an issue full of stories like this.

So I have my magazine, and I am sure I will look at it often but now that the anticipation is gone and my enthusiam has dwindled, I wonder what's next. Will it change anything or has this become a quick fix financial savior for Vogue Italia to be archived and never spoken of again?

Does this special issue just legitimize the notion that white is "normal" while black is nice to look at but "special" and not good enough to be mainstreamed?

Honestly, I would have been more impressed if the runway report special issue included with the magazine had more black faces. But then, designers really don't need to hire black faces for the runway when black celebrities are more than happy to model and celebrate those designs for free on the red carpet.

I'm just glad I can finally close the chapter on this issue. Whew!


Beautifully.Conjured.Up said...

Thank you for sharing that with us. I want to get a copy, but I'm having a hard time finding one. Although I'm currently learning Italian, its no where near where I can read a full magazine. Now, if it was a basic, baby book then I could read it.

I think this magazine is the first towards advancement, but its going to be very slow. I worked for Bloomingdales when I was in college, and although they had Black models in their print work, they never had one in their fashion shows or for their in-store events. The fashion industry is still very very limited. One day it will happen where Black will be seen for the beauty that it is, but don't expect to happen over night.

Brigitte L said...

I had many of those same sentiments Brigitte. I wanted to see Black models used in ads as well. And, the fact that it was in Italian...I figured it would be, but I wanted to read some of those articles! :(
Did you get the bonus vogue fashion show mag with it? It had many designers fall/winter wardrobes, but very few used Black models.
Oh well, it's finally over, and I can move on.

Brigitte said...

@brigitte l : "Oh well, it's finally over, and I can move on."

LOL! That's how I feel too!

@bcu- "I think this magazine is the first towards advancement, but its going to be very slow"

Very slow unless it is moving backwards and then it speeds up. The 80s and 90s were not a utopia for black models but there were more of them (with a variety of looks) that I saw in magazines.

Anonymous said...

I am still curious to see this issue in person but I too, feel that my anticipation and excitement has evaporated. As for black celebrities who have no trouble offering free publicity to designers who don't use enough women of color in their shows and ads: wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone, both celebrities and regular women alike, decided to stop lusting after Dior and Louis Vuitton and instead supported Tracey Reese or any of the other black designers who make beautiful clothing?

Camille Acey said...

I'm glad that got to you so so swiftly. I actually felt there were two FEW features on black people it was like half half . If it is the Black Issue it should have been black through and through. Also what was that article about frizzy hair? Also in almost every spread that used models with natural hair their head was totally covered up. Also why did Steven Meisel get to do this alone? How's about a black photographer or even just another one? And yes, could they have been wearing some real current fashions? I was just so so disgusted by unfolding those flaps and seeing white face after white face jumping out at me. Utterly disgusted. This copy is going in plastic and up on the shelf. One day my future daughter can look at it, I'll try to put my weathered old copy of Naomi Sims book All About Health and Beauty for the Black Woman there for her too, I am not holding out that there is much more to come for we black beauties, so I'm holding tight to what we got.

Anonymous said...

Toccara is Maxim material, so her inclusion is questionable. Let's not assume that the full figured type is getting respect now too. Her Guess-era Anna Nicole Smith vibe doesn't really work on the high end, regardless of color.
Wasn't the comp card feature absolutely SAD? Those poor models might never get their books seen, and Vogue will have to be their substitute marketing tool. I guess the trade off is no editorial shoots in the magazine anytime soon.

Brigitte said...

@ Camille - Yeah, that frizzy haired model did not escape my notice either. Nor did the piece on bronzing.

I honestly didn't expect ANY articles about black culture to be in the issue so I was surprised that they were also included.

You're killing me with that Naomi Sims book, I know I've got Beverly Johnson's around here somewhere...

Zoe said...

I love your site - I'm excited to find someone out there as keenly interested (I'll say obsessed for my part) with black models in high fashion. Thought you'd like to know that the new Vogue Italia is out for September now here in London. Apparently not a single black face on a single solitary page. Business as usual?

Chic Noir said...

anon 10:05- Its funny that you mentioned LV and Dior. They are two upscale labels that frequently use black models in their shows. LV has even had blk models in ads(Liya&Naomi). It's also designed by Marc Jacobs.

I don't mean to be cruel but it's a fashion magazine. You can't expect to much from it. What blk models Italian Vogue chooses to use should not valadate or break your beauty.

I actually liked the magazine, too bad it was in Italian but then I knew that before I brought it. I am not their target audience, Italians are.

Bridgette- I wanted to mention that Russian Vogue(Greek vogue too?) frequently has blk models featured in it's ads. I don't know if you can find it where you live but try to check it out if you can.Naomi has had a few Rusian Vogue covers too.

Brigitte said...

I've seen Russian Vogue around but I'm not sure if I've ever seen Greek Vogue where I live. Thanks!