The Color of Fashion


As New York City is recovering from its haute couture hangover caused by Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, bloggers and fashionistas like myself are admiring the latest lust-worthy collections for Spring 2014 . But just like the wildly eccentric creations from The Blonds, there is something else about the industry’s shows that was too noticeable for me to miss.

The Blonds Spring '14              source

The Blonds Spring ’14

This blog strives to find beauty products and tips that work for all skin types and colors. We are living in a multiracial global community but it doesn’t seem like the fashion industry has embraced this reality. From New York to Paris, Milan to Dubai, Hong Kong to L.A., haute couture is admired and coveted by women (and men) of every continent, culture and color. So when it comes to the ads and runway shows of fashion’s trend setting labels I often wonder, “why are most of the models white?”.

Marilyn questionThe Trends & the Stats

Charts and graphs are far from glamorous, but this best displays the statistics on race among models at the Fall 2013 NY runway shows so here it is. (similar stats from last week’s shows were not available at posting time).

Céline Fall 2013 Runway (image source)

Céline Fall 2013 Runway

If you’re still with me after that pie-chart, thank you! I also want to point out that the European shows were even less diverse than NY as many designers, including Céline and Prada, featured only white models. This exclusive casting isn’t just a problem for black models, but for all models as Latinas, Asians  and basically any women of color are not being cast for designer shows and ad campaigns like their white colleagues.

The buzz from last week’s NYFW also demonstrates a clear connection between ethnicity and model preferences. For example, the Harper’s Bazaar website recently reported on the model du jour, Sasha Luss, a leggy Russian newcomer who walked the runway for every major designer at the fall 2013 shows and has appeared in ads for top designers (i.e. Valentino, Tommy Hilfiger).

Sasha Luss    source

Sasha Luss

In my opinion, she’s not particularly special in a vast sea of white European models (although her newly bleached hair does give her some edge, I suppose). What I found quite bothersome was the site’s statement “if you haven’t heard, Russian girls are everything right now.” Oh really? So, just like houndstooth and jewel tones apparently skin color is a trend as well. And what does that mean for those of us whose ethnic hue is not currently nor ever THE look of the moment?

At the fall/winter shows in Paris, Dior broke its trend by casting  black models for the first time in six seasons. In the world of haute couture, Dior has a reputation of “all-white shows” according to the Grio’s Alexis Stodghill.  This sudden display of diversity has many questioning Dior’s motives since the collection’s theme was “women from different continents and cultures who wear couture”, according to the brand’s creative director Raf Simons. The cast included not only black models but those of various other ethnicities. This unusual move by Dior has industry insiders thinking, as Stodghill mentions, it was “not out of a genuine desire for diversity, but rather as an extension of the show’s theme.”

dior fall-winter 2013

Should we just take Dior’s latest diverse runway cast at face value rather than assume it was a premeditated extension of a theme? Only time will tell if this year’s show was the beginning of a new progressive era or just a display of races that best complement the collections’ global aesthetics, which included “Masai beading” and “Origami folding” (noted by Telegraph writer Lisa Armstrong).

Spring 2014 Show      source

Spring 2014

It’s definitely worth mentioning that casting directors have been known to favor particular races for certain shows because of the way that skin colors pair with the hues of the collection. As Jezebel’s Jenna Sauers reported there is a belief among some designers that the bright colors of spring fashion look better on darker skin that those of fall/winter collections. While model casting is understandably about appearance, it’s also about advertising. Since the looks from the runways will be worn by women of all skin shades, I strongly believe that consumer demographics should be taken into consideration when casting models for shows or print ads.

color of fashion

In 2008 American Vogue published a provocative article on this hot button issue, “Is Fashion Racist?”. I think it’s impossible to label the entire industry as racist, but when it comes to diversity among models, the fashion world is in need of an epic makeover. The over-abundance of white models is problematic for many reasons: it disconnects brands from consumers, transforms race into a optional aesthetic (like an accessory) and forces models of color to compete more aggressively with each other for jobs than white models. But as history has demonstrated, the established elite are unlikely to change their ways unless they are pushed (or dragged kicking and screaming) towards progress. That’s why so many of us are calling for a grassroots movement to occur within our beloved fashionista society.



How so? Boycott. It’s a simple yet historically very effective method of protest. Consumers can make a powerful statement that we will not tolerate this lack of diversity by simply choosing not to buy certain merchandise. Prestigious fashion brands, like any other corporation, are likely to respond to ethical issues when it impacts their profits.

I know many of us are devoted to particular designers or luxurious labels and cannot imagine changing our shopping strategy for a social cause. Perhaps you don’t have to. Simply google your fave brands and get the stats on their tendencies in model castings. labelsMany fab designers (i.e. Diane von Furstenberg, Anna Sui, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Zac Posen, Nicole Miller, J.Crew, H&M) are hiring more racially diverse models than many of their colleagues. As for cosmetic brands, Lancome and Estee Lauder have caught my eye lately with their ads and displays that better represent the spectrum of skin tones in our culture than any other big name beauty brands. This strategy is not new to fashion; boycotts of brands that use sweatshops or designers that favor fur have been effective in changing the ways of the industry.

I know that adding a few non-white models to the runways won’t accomplish much for an issue that reaches far beyond the boundaries of fashion. This is a reflection of a much broader problem, that being the transformation of overt, blatant racism into a modern-day form of “closeted” racism. The racial slurs, segregation and obvious displays of discrimination have become unacceptable, but the core ideology still exists in more subtle forms and behind closed doors. The exclusion of races and ethnic groups is evidence that racism has not disappeared at all, but rather just changed into a better disguise. So when you’re shopping for the season’s must-have items, keep this mind: the designer trends of moment will fade from our memories and our wardrobes long before the effects of apathy towards discrimination become, as they say, SO last season.

3 thoughts on “The Color of Fashion

  1. Well said, Jennifer!! So appreciate your point of view! The discrimination is very blatant in the fashion world. We have made some progress, but we still have a long way to go. I for one believe more change will be provoked when we, the consumers, start to make it make cents that change must happen. As we stand together, we can make a difference.

  2. Very interesting; yet not so surprising. What I wonder is: how much they really risk by being “avant garde” compared to how much they invest in market research, in other words: are they telling people what they need or merely showing them what they (think) they want?

    • I think neither. I think this is more evidence of how this industry is so disconnected from reality and horrendously obsessed with appearance. Another example of this is fashion’s often criticized fondness for super skinny models (recall the heroin chic look that was popular in the 90s?) Prestigious fashion brands will successfully sell just because of their name and logo, so I believe that some designers put aesthetics above all else, even social morals and values. There have been many tales of top designers insulting ordinary people for their appearance: one went out of his way to criticize a man for wearing a brown suit, another attacked a woman in a cafe for having ugly eyebrows and cheap boots. That’s why I’m calling for a boycott because hitting them where it hurts (their bank accounts) may bring them into reality.

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