runway

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.

26 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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