Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Is Black Barbie in Italian Vogue Tokenism?


...or is it a little bit more than that? Franca Sozzani and posse are the steamrollers of inclusivism.
Last years Italian Vogue issue was filled with the audacity of Blackness. The issue celebrated the beauty and diversity of black models to the exclusion of the great white wave. It was a ground breaker and for a couple of weeks even a ground sweller. Other prominent fashion magazines including American Vogue had to stop and think(for a hot minute) about the why and why not of using models of color on their pages and why most designers were not using these girls and guys on their runways. It was a very provocative moment for lots of people including readers to examine this pervasive phenomenon. Talks, forums , discussions occurred thanks to stalwarts of the industry like Bethann Hardison. As a black cat, I was pretty intrigued with the reasons or lack thereof for this insidious white-out that has changed the face of international fashion.
As a kitten in the 80's and one that prowled the shows and couture houses of Paris, Black models ruled the seas. Saint Laurent, Givenchy , Bohan at Dior and Valentino were filling the runways with these exceptional models. Then it just sort of stopped. we were hot and then suddenly not.
The displacement was originally a choice of Asian beauties, then it faded to white. It was so subtle then that it was hard to point the finger or even to put one's finger on it. It's very clear now.
With last years issue Sozzani struck a very loud dissonant chord. The mute pedal seemed to follow it a bit too quickly and that was that. Diversity flickered on a few runways , but only superstar black models were invited to the feast. This time those girls who filled the pages last year have been replaced with Black Barbies...... A clever play on subjects, but ultimately a flaccid follow up to an idea/topic whose time is very much overdue. Did the magazine decide Black Barbie's rates were more in keeping with the recession? Was everybody else too busy not getting work? Or was it just an amusing way of diminishing the actual message?
With this country's first African American President and First family the timing for an issue peopled with dolls whose plastic bodies are "darkened" with much the same features of their more famous fore bearers falls a bit flat. It smacks of tokenism, not what we all used to use to ride the subway, but a tepid response to a world which has changed dramatically since the last issue.
I'm a little disappointed that Franca and co. couldn't have expanded more on the trail they started to blaze. Europe has historically been more receptive to people of color than the U.S.of A. That is what stymies me now.
Yes, it's nice they did it again, but put the energy and money where it's better invested. Give these models the job, and let the dolls be a clever sidebar. They were very chic, very cleverly styled and I enjoyed the mini spectacle. But it was a snack with one piece of lettuce. Hardly enough to nourish or make one ask," What was that delicious meal?"
Tokenism is just that. A tidbit tossed in order not to upset the status quo but just enough to say don't look at us, we're color blind....Black models are the same as non Black models, only they have a hell of a lot harder time making a career of it. The same goes for so many other models and people in the fashion industry who happen to be un -white.

50 comments:

Divina said...

Hi, Eric. Just wanted to applaud your critical insight unraveling the less than pretty realities of the fashion industry -you've succinctly articulated many of the sentiments I feel about the hype of "pedestrian" fashion and the stupidity of overlooking real talented/gifted and hardworking designers in the field. Don't feel at all let down by the current situation and never fear about ppl. dismissing your comments as merely "a little box of bitterness." I firmly believe that for every person who is insightful and truly gifted, his/her radical sharp insights are not going to be welcomed by everyone -but once it is recognized...it's going to make an explosion to say the least. so I wish you all the best!

designerman said...

won't leave a wordy comment, but i did enjoy reading your opinions and thoughts.

i'm a former fashion designer turned illustrator/blogger. take a look:

http://designerman-whatisawtoday.blogspot.com

Fashion_Loving_Stylist said...

Very interesting post. I applaud your honesty. Diveristy is lacking on all the runways of the world. Even in Australia. At Australian Fashion Week there was one Aboriginal model, one African model and two Asian models. I found it really disheartening.

Jose said...

Has Europe always been more receptive to all people of color, or just those people of color who were African-American? My opinion is that they a little more entranced by American black folks who come and go than they are by their own European blacks who seem to be 'browning' the continent.

Anonymous said...

I am living in Shanghai, sitting in a cafe in ChiangMai and reading the NYTimes. I have just bookmarked your site.

Henceforth, tell this man what to wear, as I am your humble servant.

Ken

Simone said...

You raise a point that is always present but never fully addressed and dealt with because we are distracted by beauty. The real question is how to transition so that fashion and media reflect a diversity of color not just color washed people who where the faces and hair of Euro-white peoples. Answering it will require those who define the images to begin that change by allowing people, real people who reflect true diversity in it's natural state, to be seen. But considering the brainwashing people have gone through I wonder if we will accept it...sigh

christa weil said...

Nice to see you, Fluff.

You're meant to write, and I very much hope you do, above and beyond. I think the second act will be amazing. xx

Anonymous said...

I just read about you in the Times.

I have the greatest respect and admiration for the type of person who you are described to be in that article.


People like you make this life better and more beautiful!

I am confident that your work will eventually get the attention it deserves. I am not familiar with the fashion business so I don't know the various ways you can express your work, but it must be possible to record it in an easily accessible and enduring format.

The Bitter Foodie said...

I'm also a little box of bitterness.

Nice to find someone else out there that doesn't hold back his thoughts.

Hats off,

The Bitter Foodie

Anonymous said...

The use of the dolls was probably meant as clever satire, but it is not particularly well-timed and to me it comes across as an inept gimmick. I'll be surprised if it garners the same attention as the real black models issue last year.

I was very excited to see the Times piece and some of your beautiful designs (that gorgeous fall suit!), though their timing underscores my continued disappointment with their (and Vogue's) neglect of smaller American design houses.

Of course the main feature of their piece is on your perceptive, discerning and sagacious writing! I've enjoyed your comments on fashion but also on broader culture.

Fluff Chance said...

dear Christa, Thanks, and I fully intend to. Talk again soon.
love, Fluff

Anonymous said...

Re: "Europe has historically been more receptive to people of color than the U.S.of A"

From my experience, both France and Italy still have (and always have had) a really pervasive culture of racism that's barely even concealed by "average" people (in the fashion industry too). The worst insult you can throw at a Southern Italian is to call him "black" or "North African."

Maybe you were talking about models?

marsha said...

hey throw me a tidbit, I don't mind tokenism... over 50, suburban mom, dyed to the roots, walks runway. Picture Lauren Hutton!!

mir said...

Reading the article about you in the Times today was like unwrapping an amazing present. I have been loving your insight and honesty for a long while.

twisted said...

As a model agent who sits here day after day railing against the machine pushing my amazing Black girls, all I can say is... AMEN!!!!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Gaskins, just saw some of your work in the NYT. Gorgeous, classic, timeless pieces, the likes which are no longer seen on the runways. You cannot possibly have a career in today's market-run-mad, and for those of us who care about fashion, it is a pity all the way round.

Best of luck to you.

Anonymous said...

"Did the magazine decide Black Barbie's rates were more in keeping with the recession? Was everybody else too busy not getting work?"

Very amusing. I bought Italian Vogue last summer, and I stopped reading fashion magazines on a regular basis years ago.

I once saw a documentary on St. Laurent (I think) and although he did use black models, I got the impression that there was an element of fetishizing. "There's something about the fabric against BLACK SKIN!" Or something like that.

But I understand, it was a paycheck.

I'm sorry about your business.

Anonymous said...

For whatever it's worth, the story in the Times was especially interesting to me because I've been taking evening classes at F.I.T. with a view to learning to sew beautifully and design for myself. I'm older and I've had my own knocks, but in different fields.

Needless to say, I'm a fish out of water because almost everyone else is a budding designer of evening clothes that can be worn only by couture models. Of course they're allowed the blindness of the (relatively) young and passionate, but a lot of them seem to have no idea how hard it is to be a designer, even before the recession.

As you know far better than I, it's not just about the ability to dream up and construct pretty clothes. I'd send them a copy of the article, but they'd just shrug it off.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't help that Naomi Campbell, the biggest Black model ever, blacklisted other Black models from shows and editorials. Even Tyra was call Naomi on it.

Crosscurrents said...

Eric,
Many thanks for the tasty morsels you provide. The fashion industry has to come to terms with using black talent. Not just on the runways and in magazines, but behind the scenes- such as: photography(did you know Essence magazine still uses white photographers??), designers, production concerns and stylists. I'm a product of FIT(graduated from one of the toughest programs-Textile Production) and one candid professor told me as a Black Man i wouldn't be able to work in New York City. This attitude where we are not talented enough to do Product Development (for a large company or small independent specialty store) or have a creative bone in our bodies is totally absurd. Let's change this prevalent mantra and with your influence and blog---put in out in the universe and alert the powers that be---WE ARE NOT USING YOU-AND YOU NEED TO CHANGE--NOW!!!

Shannon Piserchio said...

Read the "Times" article; bravo and best wishes!

Roz said...

Haven't seen the newest IV yet, but will read it with your comments in mind.

At 51, you are still a babe-in-the-woods! Am expecting many more great things from you -- such as writing! Think of your design career to date as a fantastic first chapter!

marcelleqb said...

Yes, please, more diversity. Monopolies are good for no one.

p.s. Read the about you in the Times today; you're my hero and I admire you greatly.

mediaReader said...

Thank you so much for the astute critique of the fashion industry. Your wit, intelligence and candor are uncommonly refreshing and always spot-on. Please do not let your recent business difficulties discourage you from pushing forward with creative work. A formidable artistic and literary talent such as yours will always find a profitable venue in the long run. It's only a matter of time before your fortitude and creativity will yield a new professional incarnation.

Ynot said...

I don't think that I agree with your comment on Europe and black people in Europe. You have to understand that whereas in the US black people helped to forge the country (as they did in Latin America), in Europe, although there's been black people there for centuries though in small number, a large number of black people is still a fairly recent event.

I suppose black models in European countries fall in and out of fashion regularly. You also don't see many Arabic, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, etc models on the catwalks of Europe. Mostly Caucasians since all European countries in 2009 are still, mostly Caucasian.

As for Italian Vogue, in my opinion, they are the only Vogue of note these days. Using Black Barbie dolls is quite in keeping with they general direction and outlook.

In any case, better some exposure than none.

Anonymous said...

I read your posts from start to end...very entertaining and inspiring...AND REFRESHING.

As a veteran in the modeling industry as an agent, the very thing that irks me the most are those clients that call in and say "we're ethnically open" (meaning mainly black girls with a little latina and asian sprinkled in) but when we send the ETHNIC girls, we get a call back with huffing and puffing.."Ummmm, yeaaahhh, that's not what we were looking for. Can you please send us over someone who's blonde, a size 2 and has a bit of tan to her?"....WHAT THE F'K??? Are these people all of a sudden brain dead, didn't you just say ETHNICALLY open....BULLSH'T I TELL YA...

The frustration that we, as agents, go through just to push the black models as well as the Asians (cause lord knows they get it too...unfortunately typecast)...anywho...thanks for letting me bitter about my industry. LMAO

Anonymous said...

I read the article in the NYTimes and I applaud your candor. I also love your clothes (those shown in the NYTimes slide show). Best of luck in your future endeavors, and keep writing and commenting!
Alicia

T.R. Clark said...

I would have loved to have seen real models of color in this layout using these "black" Barbies as accessories or props. Now, that would have been an artistic statement AND it would have provided work for some of the world's most beautiful, yet under-utilized, real models. --T.R.

LuLu W-L said...

I find this trend disheartening as well. As a woman on the west coast in an urban neighborhood, some of the best dressed women "on the street" I see each day are women of colour. Their eye for colour, proportion and accessorizing is phenomenal. It is sad that they are so disproportionately absent from the runways.

As an aside, I find your writing delightful and come from reading the nytimes feature on you. Consider yourself plus 1 reader as I'm bookmarking your site. Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

Just finished reading the article about you in today's New York Times. The article was written very well. Your clothes are excellent. I hope to see and hear more of you in the future. When I visit New York again can I meet you?

Ms. B said...

I can't believe no one was following you via Bloglovin yet. Either way, I'm sorry to say that I didn't know about your blog before the NYT article. Hence forth, I will be a faithful follower! I wish you all the best!

xo

Jennifer
http://milliedeel.blogspot.com/

jill (dot) said...

Just happened to have flown in from London, I'm on the North Fork, and sat down with my first dose of the NY Times (in real paper, not online) and saw the piece on you.

THEN found your blog.

I'm inspired by your honesty, so much so I immediately created a little sidebar 'hats off to fluff chance' on my own blog:
http://streetstylelondon.blogspot.com/

Then I tried to be your 78th follower, and my powerbook crashed.

Nevertheless, I am, and will continue to be,

A Fan

Rara said...

Eric, Congratulations on the article and the great new start!
i won't be a teardrops and talk about what's about to end, i am just very excited about things that you are going to accomplish now!!!
i have missed you, but know you have had so much to do, hopefully i get to see you sometime soon.
Big hug,
Raul

--- as far as your post, i will quote a play i worked on" Vogue says that chocolate is "the new black". don't they realize that black folks have been chocolate all along?" Silliness with ethnic models and the whole back and forth needs to stop. They are here. And they are not going anywhere.

jill (dot) said...

p.s. One thing that broke my heart recently was reading a comment, I think on the Sartorialist's blog, from a black woman wondering why there were so few black people on streetstyle blogs?
That's not the case on mine: I shoot what I like, and I've noticed that, in London, the most stylish people, esp. disproportionately to the population, are often black, or what they call 'asian' (i.e., Indian), or from the far east. Or, Italian. Lots o' stylish girls in London happen to be Italian, and surprisingly, very few are French.

My current post is a beautiful girl who I'm guessing is half black. I just realised that I don't even notice race anymore, but clearly, the industry still does.

Sorry to be so chatty, but this is something I feel passionately about. It's a tough enough industry as it is, but it's that much tougher for black models, and that's simply got to change.

Cultured Cowgirl and Author said...

Black is beautiful, baby. I have no idea why designers would choose white models over black, but then I have no idea why designers do half (no, make that 90%)of the things they do. Every white (and light colored) Nudie Suit I make is going on a black model. It is a simple aesthetic equation - light colors on dark people, dark colors on light people. So if you accept the math (bias aside), and you design in a broad array of colors, your models will be a varied lot as well. Any designer who is colorblind to the laws of color needs to be stripped of his or her credentials, and sent back to school (um, I think you learn the color wheel in about the first grade). The eyes don't lie. Check out Sly Stone in Nudie
http://nudieaday.blogspot.com/2009/07/sly-stone-is-resplendent-in-nudie.html. Then check out what Bootsy Collins has to say about being black in america http://nudieaday.blogspot.com/2009/07/bootsy-collins-on-being-black-in.html

Kat said...

After last years Italian Vogue all-black issue, everyone was saying how it was going to cause a lot more diversity in other magazines etc. This year Vogue (US) had two black women as covergirls in a row... progress? eh.

July26Twins said...

Your blog is amazing! Keep it up and yes, you were/are meant to write! Best and much success, July26twins

Beetleblog said...

Well, well, someone at last has let the cat out of the bag. Designers have to be beautiful, an item to be packaged and sold in a street market. Talent - what has that got to do with anything - talent is down the plug hole while the industry steals the title 'designer collection' puts a brand identity on it and then mass produces it for pennies in the far east and people still 'buy it' without 'getting it'. This from a short fat artist of clothes who is past her sell by date, but still quietly going. Well Fluff good luck to you and your frank exposure of an industry that has destroyed more talented people than it has ever supported - the cloning goes on relentless and without sense. Bitter hell no, just observant.

StyleSpy said...

I look through a lot of magazine and just pine for any old thing to differentiate the models from one another. Seeing women of color is great if for no other reason than it relieves the endless monotony of tall, pale, curtain-haired, eastern European mannequins. I don't understand why more fashion editors and stylists don't seem to utilize their full resources -- i.e., the amazing diversity among human beings, even 5'10" size 2 human beings -- as a way of enhancing the clothes they're supposed to be showing off.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to point out- Black Barbie isn't actually black. She's just a Barbie with darker skin. Not black hair or black features. It's kind of a cop out...

Tene said...

Greetings,

Joining the cohort who did not know your blog... And becoming a follower, too, and linking to your blog from mine, Away From Africa.
It's not just the fashion business: the behavior you regret is the behavior of corporate America, in general--or even the Corporate World.
On another level, "third world" designers are belittled; it's fashionable for a European or American designer to be "inspired" by South Asian or African styles; but God forbid that a designer (fashion, furniture, architecture) have the gall of trying to hawk their contemporary designs--woe be them!

Anonymous said...

I am a layperson as far as the dynamics of the fashion industry; however, as a black man in his early fifties, I remember reading GQ in highschool (1970s). We loved the magazine because it was about men's clothes. Today, I barely read or buy the magazine because it is less about clothes and more about lifestyle and celebrities. This says a great deal about the state of how American culture operates. So, for example, folks like Sean Combs are seen as designers (and who the hell would wear such clothes in the first place?) and in this instance black designers who are trained as designers, well, fall to the wayside. It is incredible. I love clothes that are made well, have great fabric and design. I also love shoes. And one thing that I see is this: so-called luxury shoe companies for men have sacrificed quality construction for design--which means you can now pay $800 for a pair of shoes where the soles are "glued" on as opposed to stitched on.

I'm glad someone mentioned the behind the scenes dynamics. Black fashion photographers are few and far between. The fashion industry has many angles of employment and the racism--some even call it the gay mafia--is very much alive. Essence Magazine should be boycotted for not using black photographers. But, since the Art Directors at all of these publications are lilly white, how can you get work?

So, this is a great blog (which should become a book) and hopefully you can write a blog about the black designers that you think are important.

copperkitten said...

An important critical commentary, keep it coming Eric!

Zavi said...

Eric-
I must say that on discovering that you were Fluff Chance, I was pleasantly surprised to see that you were so sharp and witty! As far as the no models of color goes, I believe it always starts when an influential Designer of the times sets the tone for an overarching look that in turn sweeps all the other fashion runways.In the '90's Prada, who was one of the progenitors of the bare leg-in- winter look with newly pantyhose-less legs against stiff frocks printed with cherries and bare arms in the winter via her sheaths-the accessory of choice was bare white skin- a defiant and ironic symbol of a new and austere luxury.
Jil Sander was equally influential with her serene vision of "pure" minimalism that left no room for models of any color.
St. Laurent may or may not have had a fetish for black skin, but he was the leader in those days, causing the runways to fill up with models of color in the fashion world's frenzy to capture some of that YSL magic.
What we need is another designer of considerable influence who decides that models of color are intrinsic to the creation of a seminal fashion look in order to imprint the idea on the minds of the world of fashion.
I have followed your career and have been a fan for many years and I know that your second act, as well as so many of ours-will be better and more exciting than the first!

Wilbur Pack Jr. said...

It is always disappointing to learn of a gifted designer, like yourself, who is forced to close his business. Especially when he is black. As a brother who happens to be a struggling designer as well, it causes me to examine whether or not my efforts are misplaced. I remember several years ago reading about your passion for dressage and seeing a segment about it on Fashion File. I was so proud when I sought out your designs and found them hanging in Bergdorfs. You were someone I could look up to. I don't know what is going on in the fashion industry anymore where so many fabulously talented people like us are not getting the accolades and respect we deserve. But I wish you well with all your future endeavors.

Peace & Fashion Always. . .
Wilbur

joanne said...

I loved that Italia Vogue did the Black Issue last year, but I also noticed that the paid advertisers were using white models. The first third of the issue is advertising and 99% of the ads feature white models.
I agree that the fashion world needs to look outside their comfort zone in every field, from models to designers to photographers, assistants, editors etc.

joanne said...

p.s. I am happy to have found your blog thanks to the NY Times article. I am now a loyal follower.

I knew your design label. I hope you continue to write AND design.

ALL THE BEST TO YOU!

Glenda said...

You are correct in your assessment of the situation. I use to buy every fashion magazine that I could get my hands on. I wrote to Anna Wintour at Vogue to discuss my displeasure of no Black faces in the editorial section. I told her I would stop buying Vogue and did exactly that. It's been more than 15 years and I have not bought one issue, nor do I visit their website. I wish more people would do exactly the same.

Divalocity said...

I did not get the hype either about using Barbie dolls in a fashion spread, my kids have done that before by trying not to waste camera film. I found it to be cheap and insulting. Whether we think of fashion as an art form or not it still boils down to good old commerce. You're right Europe was more accepting of people of color when I lived there, but things changed and xenophobia took over. Our world is diverse, and I often wonder when will people become more inclusive of all of humanity??? I've visited your blog a few times before the article in the NYT and just thought is one written by a fashion journalist.

GENICA said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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