Racism in the Fashion Industry
Updated: Nov 21, 2020
By Melissa Del Carmen Gomez
Image via Instagram/Vogue
Vogue is a reputable magazine, founded in 1892 as a “dignified authentic journal of the society, fashion, and the ceremonial side of life.” Many see Vogue magazines in stores or on their Instagram feed when the biggest celebrity announces they made the cover. However, although Vogue may seem glamorous, it has a problematic history, and the current editor-in-chief for Vogue, Anna Wintour, is under scrutiny for the allegations of racism.
Image via Twitter @conniewang/Refinery29
In the March 2017 cover for Vogue’s diversity issue, ironically, model Karlie Kloss posed as a geisha. For those unfamiliar with Japanese culture, geishas (or geikos) are professional entertainers who attend guests during meals, banquets, and other occasions. They are trained in various traditional Japanese arts, such as dance and music, as well as in the art of communication. While vogue has long dealt with an issue of embracing diversity, their attempt to settle this matter was having a white woman dressed in traditional Japanese clothing. Vogue could have respected Japanese culture and hired a Japanese model for the shoot, but instead, they culturally appropriated Japanese clothing. Interestingly, there was even a sumo wrestler in one of the photos posing with Kloss, making Japanese people and culture themselves look more like a prop and aesthetic for this shoot. This exemplifies Orientalism, the representation of Asia—especially the Middle East—in a stereotyped way that is regarded as embodying a colonialist attitude. The colonist’s attitude on Asian culture is perceived as mysterious and exotic, which contributes to the erasure of Asian identity that feeds on stereotypes. Karlie Kloss has apologized for the controversial shoot, claiming she was “sorry for participating in a shoot that was not culturally sensitive.” While Kloss apologized, Vogue has not made a statement on the photoshoot.
Image via Inez and Vinoodh, Vogue, August 2017
Vogue decided to do a cover in August 2017 that focused on gender-fluidity, which may seem like a win for the LGBTQ+ community; however, the models are Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik. To make it more interesting, the so-called gender-fluidity Vogue sought to spotlit was Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik discussing how they swapped clothes. Hadid remarks, “It's not about gender. It's about, like, shapes. And what feels good on you that day. And anyway, it's fun to experiment..."
This raised an uproar in the LGBTQ+ community, as they were wondered why a straight, cis-gendered couple was the representation in this photoshoot. Others were quick to educate that gender-fluidity was more than just “swapping clothes.” Ruby Rose, an actress who identifies herself as gender-fluid, expressed her concern with Vogue’s shoot and story on Malik and Hadid. “Am I the only one who read this & didn't see anywhere G/Z [Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik] claimed to be speaking on behalf of anyone but themselves?” Vogue has issued an apology and removed the words “gender-fluid” from the headline of the article.
Image via Vogue
The first Black model to grace the cover of Vogue magazine was Beverly Johnson back in 1974. Johnson thought her cover would be a pivotal moment and a push for more diversity in the modeling industry. However, it has been 46 years, and she claims there have barely been any changes. “We don’t have a seat at the table, we have no representation in the fashion world. On the outside now, you’re seeing, you know, black models and everything. And you think that we’re getting somewhere but basically -- in the financial world of it, in the economics of the business -- we are not participating in it financially.” Black women may not be included in the narrative, but Black culture plays a big influence on the fashion and modeling industry. In November 2018, Vogue was under fire for publishing photos of model Kendall Jenner in an afro, to which they later apologized. In May 2018, Vogue Italia was also under scrutiny for darkening the skin complexion of model Gigi Hadid and was accused of blackface. Both Hadid and Vogue Italia have publicly apologized. These instances further prove that the fashion and modeling industry appropriate Black culture, but choose not to hire Black models. Instead, they hire white models such as Jenner or Hadid and change their features to make them look more ‘ethnic.’ “Black culture contributes enormously to the fashion industry,” Beverly Johnson says. “But black people are not compensated for it.”
It’s true. Fashion magazines should be pushing boundaries when it comes to diversity and inclusion. These companies look to Black and Brown bodies, culture for profit, but refuse to acknowledge the deeper meaning behind hiring only White faces or using the LGBTQ+ community as a trend. Anna Wintour can spark change in the industry being the head of Vogue. Wintour has done much for diversity, such as putting Naomi Campbell on the cover of her first Vogue issue in 1989 and supporting designers of color through the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund. However, more can be done.
It’s time for more diverse faces on the covers of magazines and in modeling campaigns. It is time for executives to push for more diversity within their offices and talent teams, such as BIPOC hairdressers, photographers, or makeup artists. "Forty-six years after my Vogue cover,” Beverly Johnson says, “I want to move from being an icon to an iconoclast and continue fighting the racism and exclusion that have been an ugly part of the beauty business for far too long.”
Written by writer Melissa Del Carmen Gomez