Italian Vogue Goes Where Fashion Fears To Tread
I will admit straight off the bat that I know little of fashion. About ninety five percent of my fashion repertoire consists of polo style shirts and casual slacks from Targets balanced by T-shirts and sweats from Walgreen’s. One of my brothers once laughed at me and said that I looked like Carlton Banks when I dress for work and looked like a homeless man when I didn’t go to work. But I’m sorry. I’ll be damned if I ever use credit to buy my clothes. The closest I’ve ever come to watching a fashion show is probably the time I watched Mahogany featuring Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams and the other time that I watched the Devil Wears Prada featuring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway.
When I first heard that Vogue Italia had come out with an all black issue it barely registered on my conscious. It was in an article in the AfroSpear written by ageorgegal published just a handful of days ago. My immediate reaction was one of, “And? What does this have to do with the black community?” I remembered the scene in the movie Mahogany where Tracy, a new supermodel in the world of fashion played by Diana Ross, arranged a photo shoot in the black ghetto. High dollar fashion models were being photographed along with some of the locals from the neighborhood. When Brian, a community activist played by Billy Dee Williams, visited Tracy at the shoot, he looked disgusted and asked how much some of the local people in the neighborhood being photographed were getting paid.
I never thought the world of fashion was a world that was inclusive of the black community. From what I have seen of this ground breaking, all black, Vogue Italia issue I would have to say that I have seen little to assuage my opinion. The only ground breaking, all black, concept is that this issue features all black models. The high dollar designers, photographers, editors, and all the rest of the people who typically work in the development of these issues are still at work behind the scenes. It is the same look and the only thing that has changed is the fact that the ethnicity of the people starring in the pictures is now all black.
Black women are beautiful. And the beauty of the black woman runs the gamut of the beauty spectrum. Like most articles of fashion that includes the occasional black person, this new all black issue focuses primarily on the wickedly famous, high profile, black people who are virtual doppelgangers of their waif thin white counterparts who look emaciated from serious food procurement challenges. While doing some cursory research for this article, I actually read that Carole White, co-founder of Premier Model Management, believes that one reason for the under use of black models may be the collapse of former Eastern-bloc, which led to a new gaunt look fueled by an influx of “white, bland, and very skinny girls” from countries where real food is a bit close to being considered somewhat of a luxury.
I have not seen this issue and I seriously doubt if I ever will. From what I have read the featured women are the typical black models associated with fashion such as Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, Alek Wek, and Liya Kebede. Somebody even blew the dust off of the relative antique Iman and put her back in front of the camera. All of these women are the rather thinner than average, taller than average, keen nose, high cheek bones, large doe eyes, small chin, and straight hair when there’s hair regardless if it is natural or not. Black women run the gamut. However, all too often black people are relegated to the often promoted concept that provocative black beauty is that which best mimics the standards of European beauty.
As a black person I hate the idea, the fact that people will judge me based on what they see without actually getting to know me. I am shorter than average, rather stout for my height, and about as far from a male model as one can get. On the beautiful human scale, I would register more on the Quasimodo or the Hunchback of Notre Dame side rather the Tyrese Gibson and Tyson Beckford side. I would have to work considerably harder than I do just to be considered average. Now I have to ask myself, why in the world would I spend my time and my dime to support a corporate industry that actually works exceedingly hard to make me feel even more insecure than I am already? On top of that, the fact that I am black obviously is something that does not go over very well in the fashion industry. I’m about as close to looking European as Mr. Potato Head without the moustache.
Why black people would knock themselves out to support Vogue or Elle or Mademoiselle or even Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine, which unsurprisingly does little to promote concepts of true Africans in the Diaspora beauty, is truly beyond my ability to fathom. These books are designed to do nothing but prey on our individual vanity and help guide us in our never ending quest to promote facades of status and materialism on our friends and families and whoever else happens to look our way while we wear our status symbols of fashion. Instead of somebody looking at me and thinking that I might have my act together I’d rather people get to know me. My act does not depend on what I wear or what people who don’t even know me think about me based on how I look. I would like to think that I am deeper than that.
With all that said I cannot help but remain hopeful that the Vogue Italia issue does well with all the people who care about that kind of thing. I would suspect that there are a lot of people waiting for this issue to flop. An unsuccessful result would confirm people’s suspicion that black skin, black people, does not sell well. An unsuccessful result would confirm that the fashion industry is correct to keep black models on the outside or the down low because the market can only tolerate a few black subjects.
I hope this issue sells more than any issue in Vogue’s history. Unfortunately, I seriously doubt if a wildly successful run would put to rest all the nonsense that no name black models would scare away business or is just too much of an issue to be confronted. In an interview with Cathy Horyn, Italian Vogue photographer Steven Meise put it best. “[It’s] ridiculous, this discrimination…It’s so crazy to live in such a narrow, narrow place. Age, weight, sexuality, race, every kind of prejudice.” Some people are just simply working too hard to make true diversity just a distant dream or hope.