Naomi Campbell, the hardest working black woman in the fashion industry, is currently starring in an 'untitled' short film about fashion and racism by photographer Nick Knight. Knight's first political fashion film tackled the issues of feminism and body size. In the film Knight explores why racism persists in the fashion industry that historically has thrived on innovation and inclusion.
There really isn't much to it. It lasts a little over two minutes. In it, Ms. Campbell wears two dresses (one black, one white get it?) by Rodarte and shoes by Christian Louboutin. She stands in front of a solid background holding two semi-automatic weapons pointed at the camera. The camera shifts from focusing on her to showing text written by Knight on his experiences.
Text explains that although Knight has worked for a variety of clients in the industry, he is rarely allowed to photograph black models. The reasons for this are rarely given but he says he has been told that black models are "not right for the brand" or "aspirational" enough for some markets. He goes on to say that he feels guilty for accepting this racism and further allowing it to be normalized in the industry. He goes on to say that "by denying people the right to be seen as beautiful, you cause deep cultural resentment," and that "profit can not be a justification for bigotry and racism."
Naomi starts firing the guns. Her expression vacillating between dourness and joy. At one point she's seen sitting on a tank, straddling the long black tank gun. Then the film ends.
Do I get the imagery? Not really. I don't get why she has to be holding a machine gun. Hasn't that been done before? Is Wright trying to frighten viewers but outfitting the often temperamental model with a weapon able to cause more damage than a cell phone? Whatever the meaning behind it, I was encouraged a bit to see someone in the industry acknowledge their own part in perpetuating this problem.
As I mentioned in the previous post, one of the more shameful things about this month's Vogue Italia is the lack of black models featured in the ads. There is a multi-page Pinko ad featuring Naomi, a Quodlibet advertisement with Sessilee alongside two other models, and an ad by lingerie and swimwear retailer Yamamay (they're like the Italian Victoria's Secret.) Of the three, the Yamamay ad is definitely the most...interesting.
First of all, it's a swimwear ad so there's a lot of eye-catching baby oiled flesh to be had. Secondly, the model in the ad is dark-skinned, and lastly her bikini has that animal print thing going on.
I know I talk a lot about animal print on this blog and it might give you in impression that I hate it but I don't really. I have a scarves, handbags and jewelry that has various animal print themes on them. Everything in moderation right? The reason I dislike seeing black models in print wearing animal print garb is because it happens just a bit too often. I'm really beginning to think that it might be the first thing that pops into a photographer or editors mind when they see a black person. So what's the big deal? I mean, the model is lovely with a flawless complexion. Can't a sister just hang out in a tree wearing a leopard two piece without somebody getting snippy? My answer is not really or at least not in this ad. When there are only a handful of images of black women out there, every one of them will get scrutinized. What is she wearing? How is she posing? What's her expression? The list of questions goes on from there. I've been double taking on images of black women for so long it's just second nature to me.
Honestly, if I saw tons of ads with all kinds of black and other non-white models in magazines all the time then maybe I wouldn't think twice about the really shiny lady chilling in the tree.
For the curious, below are a few more of the collection's images from the Yamamay website.
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!
I never had fashion magazines in my home when I was very young. Up until I was 8, I thought the only magazines in the world were Jet, Life, Ebony, Essence, TV Guide and that magazine that Jehovah's Witnesses hold at bus stops.
Even though I'm sure I had some knowledge of the who's who of black models from back in the day like Beverly Johnson, Naomi Sims and Iman the only one who really struck me back then was Pat Evans. Pat was known as "that bald lady" in my house where she was the source of much controversy. My mother could not get around that fact that a black woman would choose to be a baldie. "Why can't she just wear a wig? She looks like a man!" was the common refrain of my mother, aunts and cousins.
I thought Pat was fierce and a little frightening. I remember just sitting and staring at her photos in magazines. She could hold my attention much easier than any homework assignment. In my mind, any woman that had the nerve to be bald on purpose had to be a "right on" chick.
Pat was from the Sugar Hill section of Harlem and was a dancer. When she danced with the troupe Olatunji she started wearing a afro. It was the group's trademark look. In the 1960s when she started modeling she was told to straighten her hair and wear carry around an afro wig with her to bookings.
...I got really mad about that, because all of my life it's been good hair/bad hair you know. That same day I saw a little girl skipping down the street with a sweater on her hair. I thought, my sister and I used to do that when we were little. It was a game called White Girl. I said to myself, this means nothing has changed. And I shaved my head.
But she still had to pay the bills so that afro wig was still worn over her bald head for work. She did a fitting for Stephen Burrows in which she had to squeeze into a tiny dress. When she took it off the wig came off with it. Burrows was surprised and Evans begged him not to tell her agency that she was an undercover no-hair. Burrows insisted on using her in his show without the wig and her career took off.
Evans herself was a bold as her personal style. She sent tongues wagging when she wrote in Essence Magazine that "black modeling is just another form of prostitution" and criticized the racist attitudes in the industry and predatory photographers. She said that modeling would never be an "open" profession for black people until there were more black owned agencies, products, magazines and above all "black owned minds."
Really, that article could have been written yesterday is still holds so much truth.
Every now and then I run across a tip in a fashion magazine that sticks with me. Usually these helpful tips get added to my mental "to do" list but never really implemented. Like drinking water and taking some of those vitamins I keep stockpiling in my medicine cabinet. For whatever reason, this tip by beauty editor Kate Growney moved me to action:
Elle: I hear you have an interesting way of whitening your teeth.
KG: I rinse with a tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide for 10 minutes once per week. Peroxide is non-toxic and in all the tooth bleaches. My dentist says swishing does the same thing.
This is a tip I couldn't let go, especially since I just happened to buy way more peroxide than I would ever need last time I was at Costco. So I tried it this morning, and it wasn't that bad. I used way more than a tablespoon because forgot the proper dosage so after the first few swishes, I looked like a rabid dog. Let me also just share this with you, ten minutes is a really long time in swish land. My cheeks started hurting around minute number two. When it was over, my mouth was still bubbly for another few minutes, even after I rinsed again with water.
I wonder how long I have to keep this up to see any improvement. Right now I just have a weird taste in my mouth and off-white teeth.
There is nothing I love more than a chic little clutch bag. I just think they add a dose of sophistication to any little bag dress. After all, who wants the strap of a shoulder bag digging into their arm after a night on the town? Clutches keep you from bringing any more than the essentials; are small and sleek enough to place daintily on the bar when you order your cocktail; and give you something to do with at least one of your hands when you're dancing. There is nothing more embarrassing than repeatedly side swiping the person dancing next to you with your overstuffed handbag while attempting to do the electric slide at your cousin Pookie's wedding.
All that aside I'm not sure if I'd feel comfortable stuffing my credit card, lipstick, and breath mints into this snakeskin (?) clutch by Salvatore Ferragamo. Is it just me or does this look a little like pulled back scaly lady bits? All I want to do when I look at this is rub ointment on it.
ETA: The ads for this vagina bag keep getting funnier.
Continuing on the theme of brown people as props in ads and editorials is this truly excellent post on hipster racism in Nylon Magazine published at Threadbared. Below is short excerpt but do yourself a favor and check out the full post. It is extremely well-written and thought provoking. On a side note, does this image reminds anyone else of those old Baby Phat ads that featured Kimora Lee Simmons surround by housekeepers and nannies?
There's much to be said about Beth Ditto, fat and fashion, but the above photograph from Ditto's eight-page editorial in NYLON's recent music issue is about none of these things for me. It's about the woman who may or may not be a real housekeeper at the motel at
which this editorial was photographed, sitting on the edge of the bed with a handful of cards and gazing at Ditto with a weary but guarded expression. In the story that coalesces for me, studying this photograph, she has just been forced to play cards with a guest -- not because she wants to, but because she could lose her job if she doesn't. Nor does the game even feel like a break from her domestic labor; this sort of affective labor is no less taxing. In her mind (in the story I imagine about this editorial), she calculates how much longer she'll have to stay and clean in order to meet her day's quota.
The nationwide frenzy for this issue is still going strong despite all of the images being leaked onto the Internet. Condé Nast (who has been suffering from slumping ads sales lately) has decided to print an additional 10K copies bagged with “Most Wanted Issue Ever/First Reprint” taglines blazing across the front.
If this was a publicity stunt it worked. Everybody in the industry seems to be talking about the issue though for the most part they remain mum on if they will start using more black models in their publications.
According to Folio Magazine, ad pages "were up 30 percent for the July issue, but there was a 'glaring lack of black models' in them." Adds issue photographer Steven Meisel, 'I’ve asked my advertising clients so many times, 'Can we use a black girl?' They say no. Advertisers say black models don't sell.'
Oh the irony.
This brings to mind often repeated method used by fledgling television networks. Use black shows to lure in new viewers and once you've got them, replace all the black faces on the now established network with white ones.
Will the Black Issue turn out to be publishing industry's "Martin, " "Living Single" or "Moesha"?
This month's Vogue is called "The Age(less) Issue" and according to the cover text, is Vogue's guide to "looking amazing at every decade on every budget." I didn't see much inside that was devoted to budgets in the $60K salary range which is the average yearly salary of a Vogue reader but we can't be nitpicky right?
The cover model this month is Kate Moss, who to my eye looks every bit of her 34 years. The adjoining article covers her rise from supermodel to business tycoon. Yeah, she makes a lot of money and browsing the ads inside the magazine, she appears to still be getting a hell of a lot of work. Yet somehow, "tycoon" doesn't come to mind when I see her but whatever.
There isn't much that sets this issue apart from typical issues of Vogue but there are a few high points. For one, gorgeous Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang, who always looks flawless on the red carpet, is also featured in a profile that includes a brief photo spread of her looking, well flawless. Why isn't she on the cover in place of Kate? Because this is American Vogue, get your head out of the sand. Covers are for people who don't sell issues like Gwenyth Paltrow.
Like the "shape" issue, this one is full of spreads of twenty something skinny models, only this time instead of the shape issue's lineup of short skinny models, pregnant skinny model and tall skinny model, Vogue has young skinny models modeling clothes for women in every age bracket. Why they're don't use women who are actually 50 to model the clothes for the fifty-something woman is never touched upon. There is a piece on former supermodels like Yasmin Le Bon which recovering Duran Duran fans like me will appreciate. John Taylor was always my boyfriend of the group but I was glad the Yasmin was featured instead of that wench Renee Simonsen who I'm still mad at for having the nerve to be engaged to him back when I was the one who needed a date to the prom.
Wow. I didn't realize I was still so angry about that.
This is not to imply that the August issue has no redeeming value. There are actually a few other things worth checking out this month.
For one, in an effort to maybe quiet the comparisons to Essence Magazine's annual "black don't crack" issue, this one actually features a non-white woman in the line-up. 73 year old Diahann Carroll is profiled and looks fabulous. It's actually nice to see a woman of such sophistication and grace get props on the pages of this rag. My favorite quote from the article is from Diahann's upcoming memoir:
[In the 1970s her career took a downturn Carroll found herself driving a fancy car in need of repair. This was the] "worst message you could send." "Show business had already started to change... Around that time I remember quite clearly the sight of a bright yellow Bentley convertible coming at me on Coldwater Canyon Drive... Behind the wheel of this lurid yellow car was a tiny black woman with a huge head of hair flying around in the wind. As she drove past me, I recognized it was Diana Ross. 'There goes the neighborhood,' I muttered to myself'
Second, rags to riches socialite and jewelry designer Genevieve Jones contributed a few paragraphs about her recent trip to Thailand which no doubt will piss off people who think she has no right to be a socialite in the first place.
Lastly, there is a profile on one of my favorite new musical artists Janelle Monae whom I hope becomes really big really soon. I just love everything about this girl. Sadly, there is only one photo of her but it was enough to make me do a happy dance when I saw it.
So while this issue isn't perfect, I still think it's worth picking up or reading while you're waiting at the bookstore for that second shipment of Vogue Italia to come in.
As much as I love her music I'm not always a fan of the way Mary dresses. She always seems a little stiff and uncomfortable in her red carpet clothing. I also think that the arm tattoos tend to cheapen her overall look at dressy affairs. My favs from this spread are the green Alexander McQueen gown and zebra print slightly sheer gown she wore in Cannes, France back in May. Of course, at the end of the day who cares? She's still Mary.
I was paging through an recent issue of Lucky when I came across this spread. Now, I don't personally know Laurie Trott (the editor that put these looks together.) She might be a perfectly nice person who works at soup kitchens in her spare time and reads to the elderly but she needs to be called out for trying to convince readers that these Dolce & Gabbana pants are anything but ass backwards ugly. I mean c'mon, brocade bell bottoms? Who the hell would wear this shit? I wouldn't take these home if I found them on the bus. I don't care how she tries to dress them up with a "curvy jacket," "tiered top" or "earthy scarf," these pants look like couch cushions that house guests have been farting into for the last twenty-five years.
I was his first black muse...He helped open the door for black models. Sometimes I was his confidante, and I would sometimes inspire his creativity. He called me Moumounn. The collection that made me a celebrity was the one inspired by Porgy and Bess. I wore a pink pantsuit and a boater hat. I walked to 'Summertime' and really took on the character of Bess. Catherine Deneuve stood up and started clapping. The everyone stood up and called out 'Bravo!' Yves Saint Laurent peered around the curtain - a thing that he had never done before - to see what all of the commotion was about. The people were shouting 'Bravo, Yves Saint Laurent!' and 'Brava, Mouina!' He took me in his arms, and we kissed. This for me was history...After that I had more than 15 covers...Mr. Fairchild gave me my first cover [of WWD], and [French Vogue's] Francine Crescent gave me 27 pages. This was the first time that a black model had arrived in haute couture. I say thank you to Monsieur Yves Saint Laurent and thank you to Monsieur Pierre Bergé. My last word for Yves Saint Laurent is 'love.'
This is how much I care about NYLON magazine. I have a free subscription to the hipster primer and I still want to cancel it. I couldn't even get up enough interest to read the travel diary on Kenya in this month's issue. This month's issue is all about denim. There's a piece by one of the writers on her visit to The Gap headquarters in San Francisco in which she writes about making a pair or jeans or something. I didn't really read that all the way through either, just stared for a moment at the photo of The Gap's cute as pie Creative Director Patrick Robinson.
There is also an ad (see above) for DKNY Jeans featuring Chanel Iman in which she's styled to look like Tyrone Biggum's kid sister.
Really, the only thing in the entire magazine that kept it from immediately hitting the recycle bin was this letter to the editor:
Your ass history piece in the April issue is fucking laughable. You can give props to Applebottom Jeans all you want; the only ladies of color in the magazine were in the street fashion spread.
Olivia - Urbana, IL
I can only hope that Olivia's letter was severely edited and that she really let them have it. This is a girl after my own heart.
Something I've noticed over the last few years is that I see alot more black female models used in alcohol advertisements. Now, I'm not talking about the ads that target black consumers (like the vintage ad below) but the ones that I see in mainstream fashion and lifestyle titles. And yes, by "mainstream" I mean magazines white people read.
I'm never really sure how to process the images. Does it allude to some kind of racial utopia where men and women, no matter what their race, can get dressed up and shitfaced together in harmony? Or is there some other sexual subtext like in this one (notice the nice bottle placement.)
The first ads like this that I really took notice of were the ones for Skyy Vodka. I noticed these mostly because I love vodka. I mean I really love vodka, especially back when I was in college. I remember watching The Young & the Restless years ago when Nikki had a drinking problem and would fill up her "water"glass with the spirit to hide her problem from Jack. I mean, how fucking stupid was he? Vodka doesn't have much of a smell but it sure doesn't smell like water! Anyway what I got from that whole story line was the realization that vodka could be drunk first thing in the morning from a tumbler. Anyway, lately Skyy has been producing a number of heinously sexist ads but the ones I first noticed in mags like Entertainment Weekly were pretty tame by comparison.
Another thing I've noticed is that unlike the ads targeting black consumers, the black women used in these mainstream alcohol advertisements usually have darker skin tones. If the model in the ad represents easy sex then I guess that when it come time to make his move, the white man doesn't want booze googles clouding his judgement. I mean, could you imagine the humiliation and hurt feelings some guy would feel if he spent all night hitting on an Aisha Tyler dead-ringer at the club only to take her home and discover the next morning that he actually brought home Angelina Jolie in brown pancake makeup? No, light skin is not in for these ads, the chick must be identifiably black.
From the facial expression on this woman, the chick has to be dark... and unhappy. Hell I guess I'd be unhappy too if the only thing I could find to wear to a fancy party was my curtains. Top that off by arriving and finding out that the only brother there is gay?! She's in for a long night and the only spirit at the bar is Hennessy. Disgusting. When I am out and feeling like this all I can think about is my TiVo.
I posted before about this 10 Cane Rum ad and I'm still mad about the old man in the dingy. I guess if that's the white guy's only competition for the affections of this Nubian goddess, he's in a pretty good position to close the deal. Especially if she's loaded. I guess I'm just more of a land person because I could not be that relaxed just floating on a boat. Hasn't she seen Jaws?
This Belvedere Vodka ad is more of a warning than anything. Black girls, please look at the skankitude that is Vincent Gallo. If that is what a night of drinking and partying will lead to then take a good long look (and smell) of him, then look at yourself, take off your fuck me pumps, hail a cab and go home.
Breakthrough Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu was born in Nairobi, Kenya but lives and works in New York City where she moved almost 20 years ago to study anthropolgy and fine art.
Her work often focuses on the themes of black identity across the diaspora and womanism, connecting the dots of those hot-button issues in the black experience across cultures that tie us all together.
I first became aware of her from (of all things) an article in Vogue magazine that profiled the emerging artist. If I remember correctly, it was probably focused on her beautiful "exotic" features and stature more than her work and core influences.
Anyway, I found myself really drawn to her work which at the time was comprised of painted and collaged images of the female form, many including images cut from actual fashion magazines. Speaking as a person addicted to ripping out and filing away pages from fashion magazines, I could relate.
The figures have been called grotesque, sci-fi, and oddly beautiful 'saterical mutilations' that create a new kind of improved-upon beauty that speaks to the never ending quest for superficial improvement that has become part of Western group think.
Smart lady that you should check out. Also, she looks phenomenal in a hat.
This runway model looks like death on her way to an after work function.
Keisha is addicted to the elegant little black dress. I don't blame her because the little black dress will never steer you wrong but once again, it would be nice to see her wear some color. I mean, this is the ESPY Awards for goodness sake! Why wear black when you just know there is going to be some baller sitting a row behind you in a Day-Glo orange pinstriped suit? It's not like the woman is trying to hide a few extra pounds, embrace the color pallet girl. You can do it! Go towards the light, and don't forget to pass the jewel tones on your way!
This one is easy for me. I've never been a fan of Nicole Murphy's personal style but I think she owns this look hands down. I'm eternally jealous of women who can wear hats. I wish my own head wasn't so damn big. Last time I managed to squeeze a cute little brimmed Coach hat on my head I nearly had a stroke from the lack of oxygen to my brain. Seriously, I couldn't walk in a straight line for a week. Photos: Lipstick Alley and Style.com