Naomi Campbell Gets Critical About Diversity In Fashion

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The most recent round of fashion shows proved that there's still much room for improvement in casting, particularly in terms of racial diversity (and certainly in terms of size inclusivity). Vetements and Balenciaga perhaps most acutely depict how embarrassingly homogenous runways can be. These may have been the buzziest brands of the fall '16 season, thanks to creative director Demna Gvasalia and his "revolutionary" vision, yet he sent only white models down the runway. It seemed a shocking misjudgment on his part (but a judgement nonetheless), in a time when race, gender, sexuality, and size are being discussed so frequently in the industry. In the past few seasons, more Black models have spoken out about their experiences with discrimination at fashion shows — although, according to Naomi Campbell, these experiences aren't new.

The veteran supermodel and industry icon spoke to Teen Vogue about her continued disappointment in the industry's lack of support for Black models. "When I was younger, I encountered this same issue. I would be backstage at shows and there would be stylists who didn’t have any experience working with Black models," she explained. "I’d always bring my own products — my own makeup colors, hair products, everything — just to be sure that I had everything I needed to achieve a certain look. It’s disappointing to hear that models of color are still encountering these same issues all these years later."

These comments come on the heels of similar testimonials from models Leomie Anderson and Nykhor Paul, who've both used social media to share similar backstage anecdotes. Anderson took to Twitter during New York Fashion Week in February to call out the lack of diversity and unsatisfactory treatment of models of color backstage. The British model, who's been booked by Victoria's Secret and Kanye West's Yeezy showing, called out unprepared makeup artists, suggesting she, like Campbell, even had to bring her own makeup to jobs. Paul, who is South Sudanese, chose Instagram to vent her frustration via an open letter, posted eight months ago, addressed to "white people in the fashion world" — but, more pointedly, toward makeup artists who are ill-equipped or seemingly too lazy to "make an effort," and learn how to work with different skin tones.
Campbell has joined forces with renowned activist Bethann Hardison and ex-supermodel Iman to create the Balanced Diversity initiative to fight for inclusion and equality. "I think this issue only underscores the importance of what Bethann Hardison, Iman, and I are doing with Balance Diversity," Campbell said. "We’re using our voices to encourage the industry to be inclusive of racial diversity. And this applies to everything from casting models of color to having resources they need for shows, like hair and makeup."

Going back to Gvasalia, what makes his decision more absurd is the fact that a wealth of models of color are opening, closing, and, quite frankly, running the shows. Imaan Hammam, Lineisy Montero, Joan Smalls, Karly Loyce, Ajak Deng, Maria Borges, Herieth Paul, Liu Wen, Soo Joo Park — these models walk the runways of major fashion houses and are the faces of Gucci, Céline, Chanel and Prada. They're dominating our Instagram feeds and bagging all the career-making beauty campaigns, so why were they — along with every single other model of color — excluded from Gvasalia's shows?

It's astonishing that young models are having to bring their own makeup bags and hair tools with them to fashion shows, but it's unsurprising when you consider the homogenous casting that still prevails. If a brand like Vetements, which has been labeled as a kind of modern youth-culture movement and not just a fashion label, is casting all-white shows, questions have to be answered. Let's hope models like Anderson and Paul continue to use their mobile phones — and their voices — as weapons of defiance and change.

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