Italian fashion: The new black is…

June 23rd, 2008 | by Ainsley |

Italy has long considered itself a trailblazer for the style industry – whatever fashion houses in Italy have for sale this week influences what the world wears the next.

Now it is doing so again in headline-grabbing fashion, with the July 2008 issue of Italian Vogue featuring only black models.

The move is against what it deems discrimination in the industry. Vogue Italia editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani said the bold step was inspired by the success of black US presidential hopeful Barack Obama as well as a New York campaign, headed by fashion industry movers and shakers, to draw attention to the issue.

Ms Sozzani explained: “I always notice the black girls on the streets of New York, more than I would in Milan. If America is ready for a black president, why are we not ready for black models?”

She believes she does not expect her stance will change entrenched attitudes overnight but believes a shift is occurring, not least in Italy.

Ms Sozzani explained: “Already I see it is having some effect…other Italian magazines have black girls on the cover.”

The magazine will feature more than 100 pages of photographs taken by top fashion snapper Steven Meisel. The models include famous names such as Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, Alek Wek and Iman, as well as others perhaps not so well known to the public: Sessilee Lopez, Jourdan Dunn, Pat Cleveland and Liya Kebede. Accompanying the glossy photos will be articles on black women in the world of entertainment and arts.

Fashion insiders admit that although the situation is changing, a problem still exists. Mr Meisel revealed: “I have asked my advertising clients so many times, ‘Can we use a black girl?’ They say no. “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.”
Carole White of Premier Model Agency also revealed that many clients had bluntly requested: “No ethnics”. She added: “According to magazines, black models don’t sell.”

London-born catwalk star Naomi has also hit out over the issue, claiming ethnic minority models are being sidelined by major agencies. “People don’t appreciate black beauty,” she has complained. “I get a raw deal in England. I hardly appear on the front cover of London Vogue.

“Only white models are put on the splash pages. I don’t want to quit modelling until I find that black models get equal prominence and recognition by the world media.”
That is a struggle Ms Sozzani is willing to spearhead from her HQ in Italy’s fashion capital Milan. She declared: “Someone has to break down the walls, then we can go forward.”

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