Paris fashion ducks dearth of black models

Paris fashion this week tiptoed around the scarcity of black models on the catwalk with reaction reflecting the growing controversy surrounding the issue highlighted by models Naomi Campbell and Iman.

Paris fashion ducks dearth of black models
Photo: Francois Guillot/AFP

Designers told AFP their only concern was to find models who embodied the spirit of their creations irrespective of skin colour.

And one industry professional put the lack of black faces down to a minimalist trend that has sparked a demand for Asian models.

"I don't only do shows for white girls, but I don't do quotas (either). I choose girls that please me," said Belgian designer Anthony Vaccarello, whose show included Asian and mixed race models.

Another designer, Damir Doma, told AFP: "I never judge anyone by skin… I'm looking for the right personality."

Doma's show featured one black and two Asian models but the number could me "be more or less", he said.

"It depends on the season and the girl that comes to the casting. If she's right for the clothes I would definitely take her," he said.

Their comments follow a letter sent earlier this month to fashion governing bodies around the world by models Iman, Naomi Campbell and US model-turned-activist Bethann Hardison.

In their letter, the trio condemned fashion houses that used just "one or no models of colour" for a collection, saying the result was "racism", even if it was unintentional.

Virginie Deren of the agency Ford Models Europe stressed the importance of trends in the industry.

"For the last two or three seasons, there has been a real passion for Asian models, especially Chinese ones," she said.

Chinese consumers have become increasingly important to the fashion world as their economic power has grown in recent years.

Other trends down the years had seen black models in demand as well as Belgians and what Deren called "healthy Americans".

"We have black models (on our books) but we are not asked for them for the catwalks (at the moment).

"It's not racism. Things are not like that. Models have to fit in with trends (and) the current fashion is a minimalist one that the designers associate with Asian girls," she said.

In their letter, Campbell, Iman and Hardison named dozens of labels they considered to be most at fault including Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs.

"Eyes are on an industry that season after season watches fashion houses consistently use one or no models of colour," they wrote.

"No matter the intention, the result is racism. Not accepting another based on the colour of their skin is clearly beyond aesthetic…," they said, adding that the issue was specifically a lack of black models, not Asian ones.

Malaika Firth, 19, in Paris for her first catwalk shows, said she had not experienced any difficulties she could link to skin colour but stressed that she was mixed race, not black.

"So far so good…, I support equal opportunities," said the half-British, half-Kenyan model who has appeared in advertising campaigns for Burberry and Prada.

Other models with more catwalk experience, however, were more nuanced.

Brazilian model Muriel Beal, 31, said that there were too few black models working in the industry.

But when asked if the lack of black faces at shows was for this reason or due to discrimination she replied: "It depends."

Others attending shows who were not employed in the industry expressed more robust views.

Some made it clear that they would like to see a concerted effort by designers to address the issue once and for all.

French visual artist Abby Regis, said he was appalled by the situation. "It is shocking," he said.

"You can do what you want to do but I see some designers using black models," he said, making it clear that if it was possible for some, it should be for others.

Laura Bestle, a 23-year-old German international business student, said she suspected some fashion houses included a single black model as a way of "getting critics off their backs".

And she said described the idea black models were not cast because they were not right for particular clothes as "just an excuse".

"I don't believe it," she added.

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Paris exhibition celebrates 100 years of French Vogue

A new exhibition in Paris will tell the story of 100 years of French Vogue - from the post-war 'New Look' of Christian Dior through the sexual liberation of the 1960s to the dangling-cigarette waifs of the 2000s.

French Vogue celebrates 100 years
French Vogue celebrates 100 years. Photo: Thomas Olva/AFP

But as well as celebrating the magazine’s storied history, the exhibit comes at a time of turbulence for the publication.

Just last month, it was confirmed that its editor of 10 years, Emmanuelle Alt, was out and wouldn’t be replaced.

She was not alone.

Looking to cut costs, owner Conde Nast International has axed editors across Europe over the past year, and put international Vogue editions under the direct control of global editorial director, Anna Wintour, in New York.

New York-based Anna Wintour now has overall control of French Vogue. Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

Like much of the media industry, Vogue is struggling with tumbling sales and ad revenue in the digital era.

But the latest twist is also part of the endless push and pull between New York and Paris going back to its early days.

“The whole history of French Vogue is one of back-and-forth with Conde Nast in New York – growing more independent for a while, then being reined back in,” said Sylvie Lecallier, curator of the new exhibition, “Vogue Paris 1920-2020″, which opened this weekend after a year’s delay due to the pandemic.

The Paris edition was often the loftier, more bohemian sibling to its more hard-nosed New York version.

But it was also the hotbed in which much of 20th century style and womenhood came to be defined.

“Paris was the place to hunt out talent and content and bring it to New York,” said Lecallier.

The exhibition charts the evolution from art deco drawings of the 1920s through the erotic image-making of photographers like Helmut Newton in the 1960s and 1970s.

Its last peak was under editor Carine Roitfeld in the 2000s, who brought back a provocative Gallic identity by ridding the newsroom of foreign staff and becoming a fashion icon in her own right.

Her successor, Alt, was a quieter presence, though she still oversaw key moments including its first transgender cover star, Brazilian Valentina Sampaio, in 2017.

But internet culture has created “a perfect storm” for Vogue, says media expert Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis.

“The first 80 years of Vogue’s life, it had the market to itself, it was the bible for fashion,” McCabe told AFP.

“But online today, there are so many other ways to get your information. Influencers, Instagram, YouTube — everyone’s a threat.”

In a world where new fashion trends can blow up around the world in seconds, it has become much harder for a monthly magazine to set the pace.

“It’s not that they can’t survive for another 100 years — but they will be differently sized,” McCabe said.

Vogue has tried to branch out into different areas, including events.

“I used to work for a magazine, and today I work for a brand,” Alt said on the eve of French Vogue’s 1,000th issue in 2019.

But the big money was always in print, and Vogue Paris sales are dropping steadily from 98,345 in 2017 to 81,962 to 2020, according to data site ACPM.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the new top job in Paris, redefined as “head of editorial content”, went to Eugenie Trochu, who was key to building the magazine’s online presence.

She declared herself “thrilled to be part of Vogue’s international transformation”.

For the curator of the exhibition, it is ironic timing.

“We had no idea it would end like this when we started work on the exhibition,” said Lecallier.

“Who knows where it will go from here.”

The exhibition Vogue Paris 1920-2020 is at the Palais Galliera in Paris’ 16th arrondissement. The gallery is open 10am to 6pm Tuesday to Sunday and is closed on Mondays. Tickets for the exhibition are €14 (€12 for concessions and under 18s go free) and must be reserved online in advance.