Saturday, 30 June 2012

It's Raining Clothes: Free Delivery at Urban Outfitters

A quick update with a juicy discount for you all: Urban Outfitters is offering free standard delivery with all orders placed online. Yep, just like the shopaholics in the image above, you could be one step closer to this season's new arrivals (only some kindly delivery man or woman takes it to your door for you. Talk about silver service). 

Here's the all-important code, valid until midnight on Sunday 1st July 2012:


If you've been eyeing up a little something online then now's the time to take it from your virtual shopping basket to your floordrobe. 

Happy shopping!

[Image via].

Has Vogue Italia's Black Issue Changed Anything? Part 3: Views on 'Blackface'

If you've been following my blog posts about the need for diversity in the fashion world, you'll know that it's time for the third and final part of the series (and those of you who've not seen part 1 and part 2 can quickly catch up!). Now it's time for some more analysis, with help from, Sola Oyebade of Mahogany Model Management, and academic Carol Tulloch.

Models on the catwalk, and how this is inextricably linked to editorial content

It is also vital to consider the impact of catwalk shows on editorial content, because models that are frequently booked for the catwalk will also be used heavily in magazines, particularly those crowned ‘the next big thing’. Fashion shows are a great place to analyse the industry’s attitude to racial inclusion, especially as the designers themselves decide who will walk and who has the right look of the season. It is therefore unsurprising, in light of what I have previously discussed, that few designers actively support racial minorities on their catwalks and most are reluctant to discuss why this should be the case.

The website Jezebel has painstakingly analysed New York Fashion Week’s models in terms of ethnic origin and has written profusely on the findings. It transpires that non-white visibility has always been incredibly low and makes only small increases each season. By looking at the diagrams for the Spring/Summer 2011 shows provided by Jezebel, as seen below, it is easy to analyse the scale of the problem in the modelling industry. 

Analysis of ethnic origins and minority representation at New York Fashion Week
 [Image via]

As the image depicts, Spring/Summer 2011 was still a heavily Caucasian affair, with 81.8% of show models belonging to that racial category. Catwalk reports revealed that many shows shared the same non-white models, so their figure of 18.2% could be even worse than previously suspected as the number of non-white models hired will not be as great as 18.2% in total. The accompanying graphic proves to us that the use of non-white models is not improving year by year, as the media would often like us to believe, and indeed it seems to fluctuate. Obviously with black models occupying 4.9% in Fall/Winter 2008 and 8.4% in Spring/Summer 2011 then promising results can be achieved, but this is not to say that the statistics will not decrease next season. There is no sure sign of improvement to be seen in these statistics and no way of predicting the racial diversity of the Fall/Winter 2011 shows in New York, or indeed any other fashion capital, because there are no guarantees here. One could have easily predicted a sharp rise in the number of models of African descent following Barack Obama’s electoral victory at the beginning of 2009 (looking at the Fall/Winter 2010 statistics compared to those of Fall/Winter 2009), but the increase here was only 0.5%. New York Fashion Week designers clearly have no great desire to jump on the Barack Obama bandwagon in terms of genuine ethnic visibility. 
Britain is not immune to such racial discrimination regarding its models, and several modelling agency C.E.Os have stood against the grain and campaigned for change. Two of these would be Carole White, of Premier Model Management, and Sola Oyebade. Sola, the founder of Mahogany Model Management, based the company around the motto ‘Injecting colour into mainstream fashion’. Mahogany aims to properly represent people of colour in the modelling industry and Oyebade has also become affiliated with the annual Top Model of Colour awards. He has protested against London Fashion Week’s lack of ethnicity, saying that the organisers ‘refuse to put a fair proportion of models of colour on the catwalk... London Fashion Week & the British Fashion Council are blatantly open about the "industry Apartheid" they are practising’ (2008). In response, a spokesperson for the British Fashion Council (BFC) suggested that it is a designer’s responsibility to choose their own models and the BFC has no control over ‘the aesthetic’ of a show. However the BFC offered to write to the designers ‘to remind them of the culturally diverse community we live in when casting models for their shows and ensuring that those models truly reflect that diversity’. They also reminded Oyebade that ‘Model of the Year at the British Fashion Awards 2008 went to Jourdan Dunn, highlighting the role she is playing in increasing the profile of black models’ which, though a brilliant achievement for Dunn, hardly indicates a seismic shift in the attitude of the fashion industry as a whole. 

Meanwhile, Carole White has been working as a modelling agent for many years and ‘after a brief golden age in the Eighties and Nineties, Ms White's analysis suggests that fashion show designers and the industry media have regressed to an earlier, more blinkered approach’ to black models (Sharp, R., 2008). 

What are the detrimental effects of white dominance in fashion?

The fashion industry plays a vital part in the economy and is highly effective at reaching out to consumers and influencing their lives. The clothes we choose to wear every day can often be carefully considered and millions of people consult fashion magazines for advice or inspiration, most notably young women. So what happens when this main audience is presented with racially biased content on a weekly or monthly basis, and it becomes alien to see a non-European face within editorial content?
Carol Tulloch, a research fellow in Black Visual and Material Culture at the V&A, believes that ‘young black people will not struggle to find role models if there are none in fashion magazines, as they can use other outlets. These days there’s YouTube, internet forums and all kinds of music channels which will give them a chance to learn about black culture.’ However, she admits that ‘black women are under-used in fashion’ and greater visibility would be a positive change (to Polly Allen, 2010). 

Even one of the most prominent and successful black models, Naomi Campbell, is little-used in fashion magazines and her personal problems often overshadow her working life. Whilst Campbell appeared on the cover of Interview magazine and the key fashion shoot was staged around her, the narrative of this shoot detracted from the positivity of her prominence. Interview magazine chose to show Campbell as a dominatrix, subjecting her male companion to violence and humiliation, which seemed to painfully echo her real-life reputation as an aggressive woman who has been frequently accused of physically abuse her own staff. This overshadows Campbell’s position as a role model to many non-white women, which was discussed in the accompanying interview by Tony Shafrazi, along with her humanitarian work. 

Naomi Campell smokes a cigarette in controversial Interview magazine photoshoot
 Naomi Cambell for Interview Magazine, 2010, shot by Mert & Marcus. 
[Image via]

Carol Tulloch, like many other academics specialising in black culture, believes that ‘Naomi Campbell broke barriers – I know it’s a bit of a cliché to say that, but she did such a lot for black women, especially when she worked with photographers such as Ray Petri, who used black models when not many others would’ (to Polly Allen, 2010). The photo shoot in Interview magazine does not present Campbell as breaking any barriers beyond those of taste.  

What conclusions can we draw from this? 

As the journalist Nell Frizzell questioned, ‘Will the recession make publishers, advertisers and editors even more wary of having black people in their magazines?’ and it is honestly difficult to tell. Publishers are genuinely suffering in the recession, but knowing the success of the Black Issue, maybe greater non-white visibility would gain readers for a magazine as well as media exposure and revenue. However, there is the opposite risk of magazines using the recession as an excuse for not using black figures, leaving them to “play it safe” with Caucasian-filled pages. 

The way forward, as I see it, would be to start with the catwalk and then magazines will follow accordingly. Robin Givhan, blogging for the Washington Post, admitted that ‘Sure, it would be nice to have a veritable United Nations on the runway. But this is fashion and it's all about personal vision, not we-shall-overcome’ (2008). If the designers begin to see non-white people in their creative vision then our fashion magazines will be the first to jump on that particular trend. Yet model aesthetics do not change as rapidly as the seasons of fashion; Supermodels held court for the 80s and 90s until the waif look arrived with grunge, and that malnourished look has remained popular for the majority of catwalk stars ever since. With every attempt at differentiation on the catwalk, waves of scandal have followed, so it’s hardly surprising that ethnicity will not be embraced overnight. 

In the words of Sessilee Lopez, ‘I’m hopeful that one day the industry will see that black — in all its shades — is beautiful’ (Blay, 2010). In light of Vogue Italia’s Black Issue, it is evident that using non-Caucasian models does not damage circulation figures in the slightest, and consumers are clearly supportive of diversity in fashion magazines and on the catwalk. There is no real excuse not to take a leap of faith and give the public what it deserves, which is a fashion industry that won’t just take the money of ethnic minorities, but will represent them and acknowledge them as fashionable too. Homogenous content is unremarkable and incredibly lazy in an industry which defines itself on being inspirational and creative, and it is time to move on.  

What do you think - is it time for things to change? Let me know.  

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Has Vogue Italia's Black Issue Changed Anything? Part 2: Fashion Editorial

Welcome to part 2 from my examination of the lack of racial diversity in fashion media (for part 1, click here). This time I'll be looking at the horrendous use of 'Blackface' in editorial, which is a problem that many editors refuse to acknowledge. Personally I find it upsetting that this kind of insensitivity is continuing in the 21st century and it made me determined to expose these incidents.


If you pick up any fashion magazine, it is more than likely that there will be a dearth of white models and public figures within its pages but only a handful of examples from other races. There are many successful non-white celebrities and models that could easily grace the covers of a fashion magazine, but are simply not given the opportunity. For the magazine editors and advertisers, this is simply justified by the knowledge that a black cover star results in lower sales figures, meaning that the magazine makes less profit, so it is logical from a business angle to continue to use white cover stars. The financial burden of running a magazine means that advertisers are necessary to provide crucial support; without the endorsement of those advertisers, the magazines would not be able to make a profit. Therefore black models will continue to merely make rare cover appearances in order to placate the ethnic minority audience and keep up appearances of political correctness. With this in mind, I would like to examine several controversial photo shoots employing white models made to adopt the image of their black counterparts, and look at the possible reasons behind these being published as fashion. 

Lara Stone Vogue Paris Blackface
 [Taken from Vogue Paris].

The first of these images is Lara Stone, photographed by Steven Klein for Parisian Vogue. The photo shoot showed Stone in a variety of guises, sometimes coated in dark paint and sometimes in cracked white paint which bore the appearance of emulsion. However, the main difference between these two is that the white paint was obviously not true to any skin colour, but the ‘blacked up’ photographs made any viewer unfamiliar with Stone believe that she was non-Caucasian. Furthermore, she was dressed in a fur headpiece and gloves which were reminiscent of stereotypically ‘ethnic’ clothing and, though carrying a cane, this could easily have been mistaken for a spear as its tip is out of shot. This gave the impression that the shoot was mimicking the tribal roots of Africa, but not in a flattering light. If Stone had been painted in heavy black, crackled layers, as in the white paint images, the criticism might not have been so harsh but, as the photograph on the left proves, she was made to imitate a person of African descent. Claire Sulmers, journalist and editor in chief of the website The Fashion Bomb, wrote that ‘Though Lara Stone is missing the white outline around the mouth or bright red lipstick [used in ‘blackface’], this photo shoot definitely strikes a raw nerve’. She goes on to add that ‘Ms. Stone is the only “woman of colour” who scored a multipage editorial’, which makes the photo shoot more offensive because it highlights Parisian Vogue’s inability to take non-Caucasian models seriously in editorial content. Sulmers has worked for Parisian Vogue’s website in the past, making her viewpoint even more important, as she would have struggled to criticise an institution she had been employed by unless she felt it essential. 

Sasha Pivovarova V Magazine Blackface
 [Taken from V Magazine].

The second image is taken from Visionnaire, or V, Magazine, and features Sasha Pivovarova in full body make-up, embracing an unpainted model in a monochrome photograph. Both girls are naked and are accompanied by the caption ‘Black is the new black’, which is a quote taken from James Kaliardos, the Creative Director of L’Oreal, when discussing beauty trends for 2010. As writer Laura Kenney asked, ‘Why didn't the magazine use a darker-skinned model instead of painting a white model black?’, and she also noted that V Magazine proclaimed "2010 sounds like the future, and this is what it will look like," (2009). The shoot is obviously designed to be artistic and visually arresting for the viewer, but does that mean the future of beauty is to appear black but to outlaw black models? It is hard to believe that many readers would find ‘blacking up’ to be creative or challenging; instead it's merely outdated and embarrassing to look at.

Arthur Sales L'Officiel Hommes Blackface
 [Taken from L'Officiel Hommes magazine].

The third example of ‘blackface’ in editorial content is unusual because it involves a man, rather than a woman, being made to appear non-Caucasian. This is the first publicised instance of male ‘blackface’ in a fashion publication and it is probably the most shocking of the three images I’m analysing, mainly because of the high quantity of photographs and also the unambiguous nature of the resulting shoot. Milan Vukmirovic directed Arthur Sales for L’Officiel Hommes magazine’s feature, Keep It Goin’ Louder, in which Sales was painted to resemble an African-American, complete with a large afro wig and glowing white teeth. The feature was designed to explore the return of Americana influences in men’s fashion, but Sales’ appearance completely dominates the entire shoot.There is no logical reason to have chosen Arthur Sales over a photogenic African-American model. The addition of the afro wig also seems to be even more culturally insensitive. 

What’s wrong with ‘Blackface’?

In order to understand why the black community is offended by ‘blackface’, we must first examine its place in history as a comedic tool used on stage. Performers ‘blacked up’ to demonstrate the stereotypical character of the downtrodden black man, who bore clown-like make-up and had exaggerated facial expressions, thereby ‘caricaturing black people and depicting them as being both stupid and credulous’ (Malik, S., 2010). The Black and White Minstrel Show could be seen on prime-time British television until 1978, giving millions of people a very narrow-minded view of the ‘other’ in society. In the fashion world, some models with non-white ethnicity were able to build a successful career, but these women were exceptions to the unwritten rule that white women should dominate fashion magazines. Today’s society has welcomed black celebrities and models, but not as readily as the public are led to believe, and that is why modern ‘blackface’ scandals are particularly shocking. It is offensive enough to see any race being ridiculed, but to use a white model in make-up instead of a black model is completely unnecessary on a practical level in today's society. All major modelling agencies harbour a small but diverse range of non-white models and it is not acceptable to say that a non-white model is not readily available or professional enough. 


Stay tuned for part 3, where I'll be asking what academics and industry insiders have to say about racial diversity. 
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