Black Is Not Always in Fashion - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine July/August 2018 Issue

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Alisa Gumbs

A few years ago I interviewed model-turned-entrepreneur Norma Jean Darden for our September 2006 cover story, Models Inc. She spent the early part of our conversation reminiscing on the early days of her career when she and fellow model Audrey Smaltz would picket the major fashion magazines, which didn’t use black models at the time. And she told a particularly disturbing tale of the time she answered a casting call for the college issue of Mademoiselle.

“I got all dressed up in a beautiful suit, and patent leather shoes, and a red coat, and I went in with my pictures,” Darden recalled. “When I got up to the secretary, she said to me, ‘Deliveries are at the back entrance.’ I just looked at her. And I said, ‘I’ve come to be a model.’ She said, ‘Well this is a white woman’s privilege.’”

Since everything in fashion comes into style again, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that more than 30 years later it seems some modern casting agents feel the same way. Not to say that there hasn’t been progress in the modeling industry. But these days it seems that all the talk is about the white-washing of the runways.

This week the Website of New York magazine posted a video of fashion icon Iman, who appeared on our September 2006 cover with Tyra Banks, interviewing Somalian model Ubah Hassan, who was featured in Italian Vogue’s “black issue” last year and is the face of Ralph Lauren this spring. The women discussed how upsetting it is when the stylists and agents who are casting runway shows declare–despite the so-called Obama effect of an increase in diverse models since last year–that they’re not using black models, “this season.”

The next day, former model Donna Michelle Anderson posted a provocative blog on The Huffington Post asking whether some of the major American designers who have been complaining that they are being ignored by First Lady Michelle Obama, are getting their karmic due for ignoring black models. What’s more, she includes a list of those designers who had lily-white runways during the most recent Fashion Week in New York–so you can put your money where your outrage is.

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Alisa Gumbs

Alisa Gumbs is the executive managing editor of BLACK ENTERPRISE, planning and executing content across the company's print, digital, events, and broadcast platforms, and writing features when she finds a story she's passionate about--including the November 2011, December 2010, and September 2006 cover stories.


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