By now, the statistics don’t even shock us anymore. Approximately 90% of the models in Fall 2013 runway shows across the world were white, and more white models were cast than in previous seasons. When supermodels like Chanel Iman talk about expressly being turned down from shows because designers “already have one black model,” the numbers aren’t exactly surprising. But we rarely get insight from fashion insiders in the casting business about why the runways remain white-washed. Buzz Feed writer James Lim spoke to the top five casting directors to learn why diversity on the runway is so hard to achieve.

James Scully, Tom Ford casting director, attributes the problem to limited visions and direction from stylists:

“[The problem comes from] a mixture of things. The stylist has a lot of say, though. Obviously, the blame can’t be put on the stylist alone, but the designer is taking the cue from somebody. I just think it’s weird how people are constantly saying, “But it’s about who the girl is and her character.” A fashion show is not a storybook. A great model is a great model, and no matter who she is, she can take on any role. I don’t understand why only white girls could be that sort of gin-soaked boozy girl in Louis Vuitton this season. A character can be multicultural. We live in a multicultural world. At this point, it’s almost irresponsible not to represent that on the runway. I have millions of friends from all over the world, and if they don’t seen themselves in the product, they don’t buy it.

Jennifer Starr, who serves as the casting director for Ralph Lauren, GAP and more, believes designers simply cast their favorites and can’t be faulted for that:

“I have to say that I am always aware of [diversity], as I feel it’s part of my job to try and make the runways a bit more representative of our societal makeup. Some designers are not paying attention to being inclusive and just cast woman they love, which they really cannot be criticized for. I do think casting directors have a responsibility to have the conversation, elevate awareness, and find their clients the best models out there for them, regardless of ethnicity.”

John Pfeiffer, who casts for such designers as Michael Kors, Diane von Furstenberg and Donna Karan, said he makes a point to diverge from the homogeneous (read: all white) look many casting directors, stylists and designers espouse:

“Diversity is extremely important. You have to make an effort to have diversity in your casting. You really have to work at it; push yourself and push the designers to be diverse and more inclusive. When casting for the runway, you want the models selected to be cohesive as a group both in mood and spirit. That being said, I’m not the kind of casting director that goes for a homogeneous aesthetic. Maybe that look works for certain shows, but I generally find it to be bland and boring. Also, I want to see my own race represented on the runway and in images.”

Barbara Nicoli and Leila Annana, who cast for Burberry, Marchesa and Gucci, had an interesting take on diversity in the runway. Nicoli said:

“Sometimes what I disagree with is putting a black girl [in a show] just because you need diversity. I love black girls. I’m a big fan of Joan Smalls. I would really like to put her in every casting, but sometimes she’s not right for some castings and she’s much better in others. This kind of diversity is fair and good, but it’s also true that sometimes I notice with other casts, it’s like they were forced to put someone in because they have to.”

Annana seemed to echo Nicoli’s point-of-view, saying:

“We think we need to keep in mind that these are shows. A show needs to make you dream, and it doesn’t necessarily need to represent reality.”

I think what’s most fascinating about these interviews is that few solutions are offered in the way of increasing diversity. As long as designers and brands aren’t hit in their pockets, there isn’t much incentive to challenge the status quo.

Read the entire Buzz Feed article here.

  • IJusWannaSay…

    No surprise. White women in the position to cast diverse models and other talent will continue on with the homogenous status quo. To do otherwise will make them lose out to the ‘Other.’

  • TajMarie

    This is why Black Women need to stop supporting some of these fashion designers and the stores they represent. Why can’t we have our own fashion shows and clothes tailored to our bodies?

  • Fantastico

    I hope there is a heaven where I can escape the bull**** in the after life.

  • karmell

    “…A show needs to make you dream, and it doesn’t necessarily need to represent reality.”

    Okay, so in this dream, everyone is white? that must be some dream where no one exist unless they have white skin. Sounds more like a bland nightmare.

  • Joan

    I feel bad for saying this, but I’m starting not to care about the whole lack of black models issue. If they decided to flood the runways and ad campaigns with black models, would that mean progress? Nope. It would only mean that for some reason, the designers feel that images of black women would be profitable. I would love to see more black women trying to become designers instead of models. At least if they became designers, they would be in more of a position of power.

  • mm

    Amen sister!

  • MusiKCityK

    @TaJMarle it’s easier said then done as most black woman (including myself) want to keep up with general fashion trends. What I think would be most effective is fashion leaders in the black community i.e. celebrities would take up this issue and promote designers that embrace diversity on the runway we may see change.

  • Keshia

    Exactly!! Just look at the cover picture, that color looks amazing on the black model, it pops. If it was on white model you wouldn’t even notice it’s richness. I honestly do believe the model industry limits or excludes black women because they don’t want to show the variety and uniqueness of black women. All the white models usually look the same…bland.
    Also I like how they say they love black girls then list Joan Smalls, she is not black. Jesus be a fence for these white folks.

  • UrbanRomanceEIC

    Joan Smalls isn’t Black? Since when?

  • GracieGee

    …and then Jada Pinkett-Smith poses the question as to whether or not white women should appear on the front covers of black women’s magazines…(sigh/side-eye)

  • B.Payne


    Black designers & black casting directors and this will no longer be an issue.

  • Kelley Johnson

    I agree. There’s no power in modeling.

  • F.S.T.C

    Yeah, but when they(some hopefully) do they cast white models a la Angela Simmons!

  • Anonin

    I agree, it would be nice to have a black designer be a household name like Chanel and Gucci status but the reality is its not that easy. There are plenty of black fashion designer students but not only do they have to deal with the harsh world of fashion and what comes with but they have to deal with possible discrimination that effects opprotunities because they’re black.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    take your money else where!

  • Keshia

    And kanye west, Beyonce, Kimora lee Simmons, and Rihanna smh

  • Keshia

    Since her mother her mom is not black ya know like Halle berry, Mariah Carey, and your president.

  • RenJennM

    Imagery is powerful, especially when it’s all you have to go by. And when I say “all you have to go by”, I’m pointing out the fact that most of us cannot afford many of the clothes and products being advertised on the runway. So, all we have ARE the runway shows and fashion mags.

    I do agree that being a designer, a casting director, a stylist, or a fashion editor are much more powerful positions in the fashion world than being a model is… BUT models are what the public is readily exposed to. Models showcase the vision. A good or a wack model could be the make or break of the look. An amazing model could make a stylist’s mistake look good or a hideous design powerful. Besides, models represent visual glamour. Many little girls want to be designers, but most who want to enter the fashion industry desire to be models because they want to be glamorous. Is that necessarily a good thing? Maybe or maybe not. But it’s definitely not a good thing when all the non-white girls and women are exposed to nothing but white faces and straight blonde hair.

    It’s like… c’mon man! What year are we in?! There are women ALL over the world who are so beautiful that when you first look at them, you gasp in awe. And some of those women are women living right around the corner or up the street. Now I know not all beautiful women can (or even want to) model. But there are tons of drop-dead gorgeous Black, Latina, Asian, Native American, Indian, and multicultural models who are professional AND impressive. They need more representation.

    Now, if we want to get technical: different skin tones flatter different colors the best. I personally think white women look the best in reds, even though many other ethnicities look great in red as well. Asian women make pastels look gorgeous. Latina, Indian, Pacific Islander, Native-American, and bronzed-skinned Black women make oranges, golds, and certain shades of green look breathtaking. But also emerald green on a red-headed white woman will give you chills. Black women of all skin tones look the best in white and all shades of blue, and dark-skinned Black women make bright pops of color look phenomenal. If you have all white women in your shows, you’re missing out the truest potential a variety of races could bring your fashion to.

  • CanV

    Joan Smalls is Puerto Rican, and before you claim it as Black: DON’T. Just don’t. Puerto Ricans don’t claim to be Black. They consider themselves Latin. Unless it benefits them somehow to be Black, then they will be Black.

  • CanV

    Maybe he wants them to think that or is trying to give the minorities a hint of how to change things…

  • Kay

    You took the words right out of my mouth!! I always thought that fashion shows were about visual artistry and what better way to do that than to use models whose skin color will work best with your work. *smh* Bottom line is, they just don’t want to use ANY models of color. And the crazy thing is, most people in the world are people of color. They don’t use Asian or Indian models too often even though most of the world’s population is Asian/Indian. It’s not economics. It’s prejudice, plain and simple.

  • LJ

    Co-sign, to me this reads like a list of designer not to support, because if they don’t care enough about me to put a black model on, then f*ck them

  • Mei Gui

    The reality is White women consume these luxury/designer brands on a greater scale than Black women. But more importantly, White women tend not to buy anything with a Black face on it or in it. We are not their “dream”. They do not aspire to be like “us”. A “Black” lifestyle is not what they salivate. Yet, non-whites aspire to reach the lifestyle they lead. So, I get it. I see why Blacks are rarely considered for the runway shows. I don’t agree, but I get it.

    On the other hand, Asians do consume luxury in great numbers (Chinese men are now the number consumers of luxury brands). Outside of Asia, their people are rarely casted either. But, on their home-front in places like China, Asian faces are on the ads, brand ambassadors and walking the runways for luxury brands. Unfortunately, we Black Americans do not have our “own” country. So, it will be a fight for representation.

    Nevertheless, it is disheartening that Black American models kicked down Berlin wall sized behemoth barriers, yet Caribbean, South American or African “black” models are now the preferred choice over them. Their people did not have to fight for sh@#, but it is now a cake walk for them.

    At the end of the day, Black models must continue the fight to integrate. And, Black entrepreneurs must rise to the occasion to create Black owned luxury/designer brands.

  • CeeCee

    I am going to be honest, I am over the “there needs to be more black models” on the runway talk. If I do not see a black model or a black employee in a store…I keep it moving. I do not support clothing stores that do not support me.

  • Gina

    Keeping it real here, designers are just advertising to their market. That market is luxury clothing for wealthy white folks. Period. Like someone said earlier (Mei Gui), they don’t view black women as glamourous or enviable so why would they use us to advertise as models? Bottom line is that we desperately need to create our own ideals and standards in their industry. Black designers should use black models (or at least, multiethnic models) for the lines (if they are trying to sell to a black female demographic).

    What I don’t understand is why wouldn’t they do this? The way black women spend money on their hair, you would think that niche would be heavily sought after. smh.


    If a white person says your black you’re black end of story. They created “races” and racism and they determine who is who. So Joan Smalls is black and behind closed doors at fashion shows that pretty nigger.

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