As someone with a life-long fashion magazine obsession, I am so happy to see the diversity being displayed on the top magazine covers lately. Especially since this is a relatively new phenomenon. For the September 2018 issues, women of color were cover girls more than ever… Vogue, Marie Claire, Elle, Glamour and so much more. Hey, there was even a serious barrier breaker this year when, for the first time in Vogue Magazine’s 125-year history, a black photographer, Tyler Mitchell, shot the cover…featuring Beyoncé .
What really blew my mind was the May 2018 British Vogue cover ”New Frontiers – The models changing the face of fashion.” When that issue came out featuring nine models of all hues, sizes, ethnicities and religious backgrounds, it was truly something to celebrate for all fashion lovers of color. I had never seen such a diverse magazine cover. It appeared to be so authentic, an image created out of love, spearheaded by the talented Edward Ennninful, the Ghanian-born Editor in Chief of British Vogue.
This issue felt very different from the “Black” Issue of Vogue Italia from 2008. That “all black” issue was something to celebrate back then, but it was a one off, a “special issue,” with both controversy and praise. With current day magazine titles, it’s seems diversity is being displayed a bit more and there is a consciousness on the part of the media that representation matters. The issue is people of color had to demand it. This brings joy to my eyes. As a biracial teen in the 80s, I would’ve reveled in seeing more girls of color on mainstream magazine covers.
Girls of Color on the Catwalk
As someone who worked in fashion for years, I do have to thank Bethann Hardison, former model and modeling agent, for making the lack of diversity on the runways a big issue. In 2013, Bethann wrote a letter to the CFDA, The Council of Fashion Designers of America, and made note of the disturbing high percentage of white models over the miniscule percentage of models of color from New York Fashion Week. Supermodels Naomi Campbell and Iman joined in on the matter and they made some headlines. Designers claim to try to do better. Good to hear and it can always continue to be improved until one day, it’s just a way of life.
Fast forward, as an insider during the Spring 2019 Collections of New York Fashion Week, I had an interesting observation during a runway show casting. The casting team was white. The designer was Asian. Every time a dark skin model came in for the casting, they didn’t stand a chance and were sent home without even being given the opportunity to try on the collection for test photos. The stylist had to remind the casting director that they need to include black and brown models in order to avoid bad press for the designer. I wonder if the only reason why the stylist was even conscious of this lack of diversity is because she knows people are more aware and will call a designer out in public now.
Out of the 20 models they hired, only three were black and two were Asian. Even the designer was complaining that there weren’t enough Asian models and it was his show! If one wants more models of color on the runway, it would help if there were more casting directors or designers of color. It all goes hand in hand, but I do look forward to the day when diversity is top of mind, not an afterthought to avoid negative press.
The writer Lindsey Peoples Wagner wrote a terrific piece in The Cut for New York Magazine entitled “Everywhere and Nowhere. What it’s really like to be black and work in fashion.” There was so much I related to specifically, spending years in the industry. Many colleagues were interviewed with interesting stories to share. My article “She’s Black, But Not Black, Black” derives from my early days in the NYC fashion world.
Fast forward to today and there are organizations to empower young people of color in fashion such as Fashion For All Foundation. There are also designers and celebrities of color that really made a statement with a beautiful array of diversity with model casting for their shows. Shout out to Nepalese designer Prabal Gurung for one of the most diverse shows during Spring 2019 NYFW featuring models from 40 different countries! Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty lingerie show celebrated feminine power to the max with women of all shapes, sizes and skin tones.
The more we talk, the more we work together, the more we all recognize diversity and inclusion is important for humanity to thrive, the better our world will be. Representation does matter. It uplifts those that feel marginalized and it can be a teaching tool to those that live in their own world with innate priviledge. There is forward movement but until diversity is second nature, there is still work to be done.
by Hope McGrath