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Friday, September 14, 2007

The Revolution will be Blogged: Blacks in Fashion

Happy Friday!
Sorry for the late post, I’ve had a very busy morning. Why did you have a busy morning, Claire? Well, I’ll tell you.
Last night, I was delighted to get a text from my designer friend Malcolm Harris, alerting me to a forum discussion taking place today, subject: Blacks in Fashion. I quickly said “Sign me up!” and made my way over.
Upon walking in, I caught sight of many fashion notables. I’ll be honest, I almost lost my mind, I was in the company of such greatness.
Sitting right behind me were the following journalistic juggernauts:
Andre Leon Talley (far left), Teri Agins of the Wall Street Journal, Robin Givhan of the Washington Post (obscured), and Harriette Cole, creative director of Ebony Magazine. Oh yeah, and that’s Malcolm with the Peace Sign.
After I sat down, more and more people filtered in.
Tyson made an appearance:
Naomi Campbell (who actually ended up sitting right behind me!) offered her support:
Liya Kebede (gorgeous and so super nice) was in the house:
As was Iman…
Designer Tracy Reese…

Rachel Roy…
And Ebay Fashion Director Constance White…
It was truly an amazing showing, and I was excited to be there.
Industry veteran Bethann Hardison …
…took the floor as the moderator. She’s a former model, so her pet peeves centered around the ‘black model issue.’ She hated that designers felt that having one black supermodel was sufficient; that people believe black women on covers won’t sell; that agents won't represent black models; that designers are not conscious of diversity; and that blacks and others in positions of power don’t recognize a problem.

The talk revealed that the Fashion industry is extremely discriminatory and is also the only industry that is allowed to reject people outright based on color. Think about it: If a model sues Calvin Klein for not casting her, she'll never work again. If a journalist sues a huge publishing house for not hiring her, she'll have trouble getting published. In an industry based on networking, it's best not to burn bridges...better to stay quiet and complicit (though that really doesn't help the problem).

Doesn’t bode well at all for an aspiring fashion editor of color…

The forum was a bit mind boggling because the problem is complex: agents don’t search for black models because they don’t think they can sell; designers don’t book black models because they feel no need to; magazine editors don’t pick black models because, once again, they don’t think they’ll sell magazines. This is all a farce because we know black women like fashion (hello!) and spend freely. The problem is alerting the powers that be to our presence, beauty, and spending power. I mean, even Naomi Campbell revealed that she hasn't been able to score a cover of British Vogue...and that the only reason she scored French Vogue was because her buddy Yves Saint Laurent threatened to pull all advertising if she didn't get it. Yep, even Naomi Campbell has problems.

The conclusion of the talk was such: The group of highly influential people assembled (including Andre Leon Talley, Naomi Campbell, Tracy Reese, Constance White) would attend the next Council of Fashion Designers of America meeting to address this issue. Apparently Diane von Furstenberg (president of the CFDA) is game.
Stay tuned for developments...
Fashion figureheads are really trying to rock the boat (hopefully)!
Will anything change?
Smootches!
PS Of course I made my way over the Andre Leon Talley, and told him of my sincere desire to work at Vogue. He promised that we’d chat afterwards, but after the talk, he disappeared! Like...Casper. Is this part of the problem?
PSS Malcolm seems to think that the power to change things lies in the new generation, us. What do you think? Is there a problem in your opinion? Do you want to see more blacks in mainstream magazines? Or do we just want Suede back?

34 comments:

buckheadbarbie said...

Great post, Claire! That was like a historical event right there. Sometimes, I feel like it's pointless and somewhat vain to even give a damn about fashion or the industry, I mean, with everything else going on in the world but the point is African-Americans spend billions of dollars each year on these designer garb and it's horrible that they aren't even giving us work or recognition. So, it's nice to see someone, especially those blacks in that industry, take a stand and do something to correct this problem and put it out there that there is a major problem. In every aspect of life, blacks need to take a stand. Oh, sorry about Mr. Talley running out on you like that... yes, that's part of the problem!! (Everytime I think of Vogue, I remember that episode of Sex and the City when Carrie first begin work there and how there was not one, I mean NOT ONE black in sight.... WHAT-THE-HELL?!

Suzanne said...

Hey Claire,
It's your fave ex-intern!!!
Wow. Everyday you learn something new. Naomi has problem with getting work in some cover spreads?! The problem is complex and I am glad that we as a people are finally coming up with a decisive way to address these problems. Working in media relations, has taught me, that the black media and media community as a whole is small, and you can never burn your bridges. You can't be meek all the time and allow those to walk over you. Where do you draw the line?

Look Me Up said...

See I told you, your life is fab!Have a great weekend!Today's post was good, your suprise turned into mine.

The Bee is out

Anonymous said...

When I see a black model, I turn the page, or, if it's a cover, avoid the rag. I love my black brothers, but here's reality. Most black folks don't watch predominantly white shows and white folks don't watch black series. Halle Berry is attractive, but she is an anomaly and I have white friends blacker than she. A black I know said "what I wanna watch a show about white folks for?". I felt it spoke volumes. I love Chris Rock, Pryor, Eddie et alia, but I usually do not watch afro-centric indie films, because I get tired of all the Urban cliches and "the 200 years of slavery are your fault" BS.

Allen said...

Anon, you suck ass.

I guess that's why you remained anon.

Anonymous said...

Great article Claire. So now I’m trying to recall the reasons why Suede and Vibe Vixen folded. Was it lack of readership, or some other type of financial or managerial problem? If it’s the first, then We probably weren’t doing enough to support a mag, by Black ppl, full of Black ppl. I don’t recall even hearing much about Suede until Claire wrote about its demise. Can some1 provide me with the names of some other young Black mags, so that I can show my support. I don’t recall anything besides Essence, Ebony and Jet, and none of those are “young”.

Buckheadbarbie - I don’t think an episode of Sex and the City would really capture the lacking or presence of Black ppl at Vogue. A casting agent probably chose the extras, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t go to Vogue and mirrored the tally of employees. This topic has been debated in these very walls though.

Steph said...

Claire. Brilliant! The stars are def aligning for you. What an amazing opportunity and right in time for the topic just recently raised about ethnic models and diversity in fashion. I'm actually just proud that so many big names showed up to talk about the issue and want to rock the boat. Black girls (and boys) rule!

Anonymous said...

There's Upscale mag...
It's so frustrating b.c most people say that suede and honey are done for. why?
I think suede folded due to poor management, not lack of readership. We really need to get it started. Can't wait to hear about that CFDA mtg (if it happens)

Your Girl said...

what a fabulous experience for you, claire!

i'd love to see both more black models, editors, stylists, etc and more suede.

- EG said...

you did an amazing job on coverage, it breaks my heart that our voices aren't heard nor headed, that we are fast fading....our beauty white-washed and banashed. Having attended the event as well, a few times I wanted to shed a tear, how can anyone look at Naomi or Liya and not see the definition of true beauty. They are both breath-taking and honest souls. As the daughter of a once aspiring and shut out model, it hit home.But at the same time I feel as though I am part of the cycle, working in the same building, with the same people...that shut them out. Wanting to pull more of us in the door, but fearing backlash...its like we are stuck between a rock and hard place in relation to fashion...but at least your blog told things honestly...we'll have to work toward something more progressive.Thanks.

Esquiress said...

Now this is what I call fabulousity! What a great time to be Young, Gifted and Black © Nina Simone. I hope that changes really are made, and not just so that I can see more pretty brown faces on the covers of Elle & Vogue, but because I'm ready for a change in my world. I certainly hope that the CFDA meeting is the first of many positive steps in the right direction!

Ratasha said...

This is my opinion why I think that magazines like Honey, Suede (which as avid magazine reader I never heard of),and Vibe Vixen fail is because I think the magazines try to hard to please everyone by marketing itself muti-cutural. I think that black women do have power in buying and influencing fashion as a whole but we get no respect for that. Its probably mismangement as well and lack of ad revenue but in order for us to have a younger hipper version of Essence (which is a good mag), we need a strong voice to represent for us only (like a magazine like Cosmo or something.I know I would love to see us finally have a great fashion magazine. I know I'm rambling but this has been a dream of mine for years now.

Dammie said...

Oh my! This is too close to home I had to comment, how I really wish I could have been there, but i feel like i have - great coverage!!!

I actually just heard about Suede, because someone compared a magazine I am familiar with to it, HauTe - Fashion Nigeria... I wish I knew about it earlier, woulda been great to see it!!

I'm so happy they are taking these steps towards blacks in fashion, because as everyday passes, I realise you don't hear of other black fashion designers or models and it's such a scary feeling {and there are SOOO many breath takingly talented designers of colour out there *sigh*}...

I see great possibilites with this forum. Please keep updated!!

XxLovexX
D.

Delish said...

The problem does lie with the designers themselves, but even designers of color have yet to respond. For example, your friend Malcolm only has two models of color featured on his website as far as I can tell. And he's also flanked by two white models on his main page. I think Tracy Reese is doing a good job promoting models of color in the fashion industry. But maybe more designers of color need to do their part.

Anonymous said...

I'm ashamed to say it, but as a black female, I flock to the newest issues of Vogue, Elle, and Bazaar, well before checking for the new issues of Ebony or Honey (or Vibe Vixen when it was around). There really just aren't great black fashion magazines, to be honest. The recent issue of Ebony was the closest I have seen to a great black fashion source, and even *that* was just a special edition. I think until black people take things into their own hands (and even our brown sisters and brothers, not just blacks), European themed fashion sources will rule.

suigenerisboutique.com said...

claire! this forum sounds like a wonderful event to have been a part of - lucky you!

this problem in the fashion industry does not come to a surprise - the unequal playing field and the lack of our just do is sadly ubiquitous and crosses into just about every industry.

although these issues must be addressed, i LOVE to see us building our own websites, our own magazines, our own shows, our own rules. i absolutely loved vibe vixen and suede, by the way - i flock to our magazines/shows/sites always. i recognize the desire to want to be accepted by mainstream but hell we ARE mainstream. i'm at times frusturated with our need to be so accepted and respected by others - where's our acceptance and respect for our own talent and abilities. our buying power and potential for fabulosity is enormous - instead of focusing on getting "on" with them let's focus on helping out eachother (shaking my head at mr. talley) and building up our own. then generations to come will enjoy the fruits of our labor instead of having this same conversation.

i realize it's not as easy to do as it is for me to type but i agree with your friend, it starts with the very same people who recognize the need for the change -us!

Mal Sirrah said...

Firstly to my dear Claire... I say Bravo on your coverage of the event... I am so glad that you were able attend... I am equally as glad that I decided to pay your blog a little visit this afternoon...

In response to the comment left by Rasha - I will attempt to explain a few things about the industry in which I make my living.

When you see me flanked by the two white girls in the photoshoot, you must know this - the two black models that we hired for the photoshoot that day - never showed up... At the last minute their agency pulled them off of the job. However, I knew exactly what this meant - there agency decided that perhaps it wasn't a good thing to have top black models paired with a controversial African American designer... This is the same thing we go through when it is time for show castings as well... As you will see if you visit my blog (www.cutsewandblog.com) you will notice that top model Chanel Iman is like a daughter to me, however, her agency Ford Models will not allow her to do my fashion show, lookbook and/or website. To an outsider looking in you might ask yourself, "Why can't she just do it if she wants???" The answer being is that she, like most models, are under contract; therefore, everything that they do must be approved by their agency. This also goes with girls that love and admire my work from Ajuma, Honorine, Alek, Liya and the list goes on and on... But when it comes time for photoshoots and fashion shows the agencies will do everything within their power to tapdance around allowing African American designers to book the girls of color. And to be completely honest, a lot of the black girls don't fight to be a part of African American fashion designers shows because of course they want to be in the shows that they believe are going to give them the most exposure... Imagine if we built up our pool of relevant designers - the fashion game would change completely.

If you take a look at my Spring 2007 fashion show which was hosted by fashion guru, Pat Fields, you will notice that I ended my show with a huge protest to the fashion and modeling inudstries that featured three beautiful black women carrying protest signs that read "Young, Gifted and Black" as the namesake song by Nina Simone played in the background. The final girl to come out was model/heiress Lydia Hearst holding a sign that said "and Blonde"... This was to show the industry that this is the ideal they favor over beautiful women of color. Lydia has been a huge champion of my work and efforts in attempting to make a change in the way that people of color are excluded from the fashion industry...

I truly do wish that every single person that has visited this particular blog could have been a fly on the wall at yesterday's forum. The nuances that this particular industry of sophisticates utilize to attempt to keep us out are baffling... That is why when I made my return to this industry I consciously decided not to fit in and to create my own path. One day soon we will all realize that our objective should not be to fit into something that was not created for us, but the goal should be to build something that is our own. But until we collectively take back our power, we will forever be outsiders looking into their bulls**t...

In the meantime, stop by my blog and you will see that my experience at yesterday's forum was completely different from Claires - but I am so thankful that Claire was there to share in this pivotol moment in our journey...

Mal Sirrah said...

Sorry, it wasn't Ratasha that left the comment - it was Delish...

Brianna said...

Claire, congrats on the experience to go to that forum...I think this is a huge problem that needs to be addressed. PS-I got the new issue of Essence in the mail the other day, and I saw your face as a contributor! GOOD JOB on the article about healthy eating...you are doin the damn thing girl! :)

Anonymous said...

Since they took down the Hot Mess site, with the pics of the woman in the white wedding dress with an opening for her pregnant belly, this is my new fave site. Comedy gold!

Kimberly said...

It was a nice try for you to ask ALT about a job with Vogue. But you got the short end of the stick because he clearly was not interested in helping you. Some people feel there is not enough room at the top for there brothers and sisters. I personally haven't seen where he has done much to help bring his fellow african americans up in the fashion industry. So to even see him at the event shocked me! Since when did he care about the success of other black people? And as far as the models, I don't even believe that having 2 african american models out of a possible 30 is enough! Wherever I can speak I will speak and let that be known. This is a new time and we are still being treated like second class citizens and I am tired of it! We can't just sit back and take this kind of treatment any longer. Everyone needs to speak up or shut up!!!

Anonymous said...

Erm, Naomi Campbell has been on 8 covers of British Vogue, please google, 5 by herself and one with Diddy and others with other supermodels...so not sure what she is on about and I'm British and live here! Also have some covers with her on them!

And check out TRACE magazine, NY based international style magazine...black editor, black models, black interns-well it's international and open minded which is what is more important I feel...

Anonymous said...

In response to Kimberly's comment about ALT not being helpful about the job.. Imagine how many times he hears "i have a strong desire to work at Vogue..can you help me?" probably everytime he walks out the door. I think one should send him a resume, a cover letter expressing your desire, and do the follow-up required.. It's great to make his acquaintance at an event, but he is not required to hang around and discuss your job hunting "desires" with you.. The man is a busy, I don't think his leaving the event, to perhaps be on time for another appointment, has anything to do with "a bigger problem of why african american's don't work at vogue".. Let's respect the man's time, and go about getting that job at Vogue another way..as everything is possible..

Anonymous said...

Don't let ALT off the hook. There's a diff btwn being active (Bethann) and complacent (him). And if you knew anything about the industry, you'd know a cover letter and resume go straight to the trash bin if sent to human resources.

maggirl said...

Yeah, like all the socialites that work at Vogue send in a resume and cover letter...get real

yannize said...

Claire, I love how your blog is always focused on fashion, but more than the aesthetic. You really go deep into the psyche of the fashion world, and have dealt with weighty issues such as race that doesnt sound like a blog, but a piece in the New Yorker or New York mag. I enjoy your pushing of the envelope that others may have put your blog in, and hope you continue to do great work.

Yannize
styleammo.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

is everyone aware the Rachel Roy is not Black she is Indian (from India) and Caucasian

WendyB said...

I am so distracted from the important issues by the fact that crazy Naomi Campbell incorrectly said she had no British Vogue covers. WHAT IS SHE SMOKING? I want some of it, because I want to erase memories of some of my past too. Sadly, those memories don't include any Vogue covers. Not even a Marie Claire cover.

Anonymous said...

a resume and cover letter? maybe. but just about everyone knows that in many industries your success is dependent on who you know and who you network with.
a resume and cover letter won't simply make it happen, love.

Anonymous said...

^^^^^^ TO ANON ABOVE
SO TRUE , SO TRUE .

Anonymous said...

It is so sad the way we, as blacks, represent ourselves. Have you ever been to an exhibit of Hispanic art? It always sucks. Equally, when we represent ourselves as Urban or Afrocentric fashion, we sabotage ourselves. And some of the names here, Deelish? Why not just go by Latreesha or Monifque! They are just as silly. We are working in FASHION, not black fashion. If we want to compete in the marketplace, we have to show up as designers. Period. Not BLACK designers or BLACK models. We're basically saying going in, we only want to compete with other black designers. So essentially, we are cubby holing ourselves. And can we work on our written English? You will never be taken seriously if you write conversational English, or if it smacks of ebonics. And The Fashion Bomb? As in "it be the da bomb, yo"? Still as bad as a minstrel show. Don't show up for that Steppin Fetchit routine. We have to be ourselves, but we cannot compete if we come off like "yo, yo, yo!" stereotypes.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, whoever you are...you are insane. A blog is conversational, casual. It's not supposed to be the New Yorker. Second of all, why should anyone have to conform to anything to be taken seriously? Why should we diminish our culture to be accepted? Dig yourself out of your own cubby hole.

Anonymous said...

Ratasha, Deelish, yo wassup, Gs? I be in Compton! I be disineing 2! I only do purpel! Izzat da bomb or wat? I do jump sutes an bloewses in xxxlarge, for my sistas who like dey ribs LOL! il send some jpegs soon,ok?? my name is Bizantree!

Valentine said...

@buckheadbarbie: When was there ever a black on Sex and the City period?

Blacks have the POWER to accomplish whatever it is they need to if they just would stick together and cease their obsession with pleasing the "man", and be comfortable with pleasing themselves.

You will notice that when blacks excell at anything, the "man" comes tagging along and wants a piece of the action. Be yourself, please yourself.