Racial controversy is a theme in the fashion industry. Women of color such as Native Americans, blacks, Asians, and Latinas are repeatedly discriminated and limited in the industry. Last year, Cosmopolitan made headlines when it featured a beauty trend list that featured women of color wearing beauty trends that “needed to die..” Now, Valentino is facing criticism for racial appropriation in their 2016 Spring campaign.
Less than 9% of the women that wore the ‘Africa-inspired’ collection were black while more than 90% of the models were Caucasian. The campaign photographs that were shot by Steve McCurry in Kenya also drew criticism for featuring Kenyans as props used to highlight the white models.
Valentino described the collection as being “”primitive, tribal, spiritual, yet regal” and inspired by “wild and primitive Africa. Because clearly, Africa is a continent with only one culture. There are more than 1,500 individual languages, and more than 3,000 tribes and cultures. Also, multiple industrialized countries such as Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya exist on the continent.
Although the fashion industry is globalized and caters to foreign markets, at the Fall 2015 NY fashion week, more than 77% of the models were white. Black and Asian models accounted for 8% each while only 3% of the models were Latina.
Barbara Nicoli, casting directors for brands such as Burberry and Emilio Pucci, told Buzzfeed in a 2013 interview, “I guess there are some collections where it’s more perfect for an Asian body shape because they are more flat and less sexy, in a way. Asians, they are not curvy, so to put an Asian [who’s] very flat [with a] baby body shape in a show where normally the designer knows they love sexy, beautiful, curvy girls, it’s a bit of nonsense.”
Supermodels Iman, Naomi Campbell, and Nykhor Paull are outspoken about the racial discrimination women in the modeling world face.
By Afoma Okoye