NY Fashion Runways Lack Black And Asian Models

Christine Kearney, Reuters, September 11, 2007

As spring collections are paraded on the catwalks at New York’s Fashion Week, ethnic diversity is noticeably lacking among the models and some fashion industry insiders say discrimination is prevalent.

This week’s fashion shows, which are known for diversity among the clothing designs and the audience, come just weeks after famed black model Naomi Campbell accused fashion magazines of passing over black beauty in favor of fair-skinned models.

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At New York’s Fashion Week many top designers chose to employ one or two black models and a few Asians in shows and some had none, Reuters reporters who attended over 40 shows by found. Blacks, and blacks in combination with another race, make up about 13 percent of Americans, U.S. Census data shows.

Diane von Furstenberg and Baby Phat were among the few that had a more equal racial mix of models. At least half the models used for Baby Phat, which features Kimora Lee Simmons’ glitzy urban designs, were black or Asian.

J. Alexander, a runway coach on TV’s “America’s Next Top Model” who helped produce Baby Phat’s show, said the standard for using black models is “two girls, three maximum” per show.

“And you normally get one to make it clear that she is obviously dark too so they don’t get any lip from journalists or any backlash for being racist,” he said.

BLONDES AND BRUNETTES FAVORED

While Campbell directed her criticism at the dearth of black models gracing magazine covers, some black models at fashion week said that also spilled onto runways.

Model Godeliv Van den Brandt, of Belgian and Congolese heritage, said black models were used much less than whites.

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Some designers and casting directors said if their shows were not diverse it was due to problems finding black and Asian models. Others, like designer Carmen Marc Valvo, said the ethnic mix had improved.

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Some designers said it was their artistic right to choose the color and body shapes that matched their fashion styles.

“My clothes transcend ethnicity,” said Thuy Diep, a female designer from Vietnam. “My samples are a certain size and they have to fit right . . . and that’s more important than having one black person and one Asian person.”

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George Coleman, a designer attending but not showing a collection in New York, said some designers use models to cater to their desired demographic.

“For urban lines, you are going to have more (black models),” he said. “But is say, Ralph Lauren, gearing his stuff towards African-Americans? It’s more for Caucasians.”

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