ARTICLE: BLACK FACES DON'T SELL?
 Prada' cast Malika Firth as the first Black Model for its campaign in 10 years.

Prada' cast Malika Firth as the first Black Model for its campaign in 10 years.

 ITALIAN Vogue’s 'A Black' issue was unveiled in 2008, the same year Barack Obama became the first black President of the United States.

Accused of riding the coat-tails of Obama’s ground-breaking Change campaign, the issue featured only black models and highlighted one of the fashion industries most controversial debates.

Is the fashion business institutionally racist because of the lack of black models used in campaigns? 

It’s sadly a world that isn’t afraid to paint a blonde model brown for an African Queen editorial spread and call it ‘edgy’.

Showered with both criticism and praise, the Black issue sold out in the US and UK in 72 hours, thousands of reprints were called for nationwide and, in an online interview in January this year, self proclaimed risk-taker, Editor Franca Sozzani, called it one of her greatest achievements:

“Nobody wanted to do it, everyone was scared – everyone thought it would be racist as it was all black girls.”  

Nevertheless, Franca thought it important to make a statement.

“You go on the runway, you see all these girls and they all come from the East Side, I could not believe that Africa, which is such a big continent, could not have lots of beautiful girls...”

I got my copy of the infamous issue.

A friend sent it me straight from Milan along with a simple note: “You will love this.”

I really did.

Remembering the 1990s, during the height of the Supermodel era, I, a gangly pre-teen who was careering rapidly to a lofty 5ft10, marvelled at the likes of leggy  models  Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford and Linda Evangelista  for their other-worldly beauty; yet it was a certain Naomi Campbell that struck my attention and curiosity.

Naomi, black British of Caribbean decent, looked a little more like me.  

Unknown to myself at the time, Naomi Campbell and other beauties such as Tyra Banks, Iman, Beverly Johnson and notably, Alek Wek, were breaking  a pretty sturdy mould in an industry that was and still is marred by a shocking degree of  discrimination  and  ‘black face’ scandals.

It’s sadly a world that isn’t afraid to paint a blonde model brown for an African Queen editorial spread and call it ‘edgy’.

Today their modelling predecessors are still reporting about the industry’s 'lack of diversity' and some designers, advertisers and magazines are cautious to use minority ethnicities on major campaigns.

That’s not an assumption either.

Renowned photographer of the Black Issue, Steven Meisel, sadly reported that  his advertising clients have refused the use of a black model for fear consumers would 'resist the product' and that a black face 'won’t sell'.

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