The fashion industry can be seen as one of the most socially influential industries in the world, dictating what is fashionable, what is cool or in style, and what is considered beautiful.
When looking at runway shows, or major fashion ads it is unlikely that you will see many models of color.
Iman, one of the most famous black models of all time has stated that there were more black models on the runways in the 70’s than there are now, which I find shocking since the appropriation of black culture in fashion has become so popular. Although the fashion industry appropriates black fashion, they are still using white models (sometimes painted black face) to sport these fashions in campaign ads, instead of using black models, which is a trend that needs to die because it discredits black creativity.
There have been many trends in the fashion industry that have dictated the standard of black beauty, such as lightning the dark complexion of black celebrities on magazine covers, or promoting skin care products that aim to give you a lighter complexion.
One of the main underlying practices of the fashion industry is that it uses black models and models of color as exotic objects to wear fancy clothes. A photographer discovered the supermodel Iman in Kenya, but when she was brought to America to sign with a modeling agency, the photographer presented her as a Somali goat shepherdess who didn’t know English stated here. This myth made Iman more appealing to modeling agencies, and the fashion industry was able to use this false backstory as a way “to promote diversity”. It seems to me like the photographer was basically saying, “look at this Kenyan girl I rescued and turned into a model.” Another example of using black models, as objects were when South Sudanese model Alek Wek was used as espresso in a coffee campaign ad. Depicting the dark complexion of a black model to portray the dark color of coffee is just demeaning the beauty of African models.
Many fashion designers such as Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Chanel, Armani, Gucci, Saint Laurent, Victoria Beckham, Roberto Cavalli and Marc by Marc Jacobs have also been accused of being racist, stating that they’re not going to design clothes for black people to wear. But what does it mean to not design clothes that black people would wear, when people of color wear different types of style. With the appropriation of black fashion in the fashion industry, many designers willing to admit it or not have been influenced by black fashion in some way.