Editor's Note: Now that Vogue Italia has released the 1st ever Vogue featuring all Black models, do you think there will be a day where we see all plus models in a mainstream print fashion mag? -- Ms. Aja B.
Conspicuous by Their Presence
By CATHY HORYN
Racial prejudice in the fashion industry has long persisted because of tokenism and lookism. “We already have our black girl,” says a designer to a fashion-show casting agent, declining to see others. Or: “She doesn’t have the right look.” Laziness, paranoia and pedantry may also have something to do with the failure to hire black models for shows and magazine features in any meaningful number, but, hey, that’s just a guess.
A decade ago the thing to deplore was the stereotyping of black models by dressing them in African-inspired clothes (or the Asian girls in kimonos). This at least gave work to minority models, but it also encouraged a Western view of African culture of the many-bangles-many-beads variety.
O.K., so fashion ain’t deep. It looks into a mirror and sees ... itself. The irony in fashion is that it loves change but it can’t actually change anything. It can only reflect a change in the air. But what changes fashion? What would finally move American designers to include more black models on their runways? That 30 percent of the country is nonwhite? That black women spend $20 billion a year on clothes? That an African-American is the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic Party?
The answer is the individual eye.
In fashion, one of the most influential eyes belongs to the photographer Steven Meisel. His pictures have caught an America basking in the earnest, self-reflected glow of celebrity and money. He has taken innumerable risks, especially with “Sex,” the 1992 volume he did with Madonna, that have paid off with a career that allows him to do whatever he wants.
And he has almost lovingly photographed some of the world’s beautiful women, tapping into their psyches, connecting with them on a human level, while transforming them into fashion deities. As the model Veronica Webb, who first worked with Mr. Meisel 20 years ago, said: “Steven knows every single tic, every talent that every girl has. He just pulls it out of them.”
For the July issue of Italian Vogue, Mr. Meisel has photographed only black models. In a reverse of the general pattern of fashion magazines, all the faces are black, and all the feature topics are related to black women in the arts and entertainment. Mr. Meisel was given roughly 100 pages for his pictures. The issue will be on European newsstands next Thursday and in the United States soon after.
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Source: New York Times
Photo Credit: Naomi Campbell photographed by Steven Meisel for Italian Vogue