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Chanel Iman Talks Racism In The Fashion Industry, When ‘Black Entitlement’ Goes Wrong



2009 Victoria?s Secret Fashion Show After Party

New York – The topic of racism in the fashion industry has reared its ugly head one too many times over the past several months. There was that ELLE France gaffeDolce & Gabbana’s mammy-esque designs and the recent blackface scandal with Numéro magazine. These instances and more remind us that the post-racial society that some like to think we live in is simply a hope and not reality.

One of fashion’s top models, Chanel Iman, is supporting that notion with a candid admission about her experience dealing with racism within the fashion industry.

Our friends over at Clutch spotted an interview with the 22-year-old beauty that was conducted last month for the Sunday Times Magazine. In the article Chanel is asked whether race is truly an issue in the industry. Her response comes as no surprise (at least not to us):

“Yeah, most definitely. A few times I got excused by designers who told me ‘we already found one black girl. We don’t need you anymore.’ I felt very discouraged. When someone tells you, ‘we don’t want you because we already have one of your kind, it’s really sad.”

Black Voices of the Huffington Post continues,

When is this kind of tokenism going to be replaced with employing the right person for the right job? Chanel also talked about those who have spoken out about diversity and acknowledged the beauty of women of color.

“I appreciate designers making a strong statement that black women are beautiful. Black women like fashion. And when there’s more diversity on the runway, it makes our world more inclusive.”

However, sadly the percentage of black models at New York Fashion Week is on the decline–dropping from a dismal 8% to a pathetic 6%, in just one year.

Even fashion heavyweights like Vogue Italia editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani and photographer Steven Meisel, who support and encourage diversity are met with roadblocks.

“I’ve asked my advertising clients so many times, ‘Can we use a black girl?’ They say No. Advertisers say black models don’t sell,” Meisel told The Times Sunday Magazine.

Tell that to legendary models like Naomi Campbell and Iman who are still landing major campaigns and running empires after over half a century of success in the industry between them.

Dang it!!! I forgot to cue the violin music, sorry!,……………Please, SPARE ME with the entitlement, and have several seats Chanel. Now before my black fashion brethren get there ‘feathers ruffled’, hear my view point first, because what this young woman said is VERY TRUE.

First, lets ask ourselves a view questions to get a better understanding of the racial dynamics that concern the creative aspects of the industry.

1. Does the industry contain myopic, single-minded idiots that have that are ONLY concerned with their “vision” and feel they need NOT offer any contributions concerning the diversity they display concerning their brand and or product. – Yes,…( That was an “Emphatic, my mama in sunday service, catching the Holy Ghost” YES,..so let us  NOT get that twisted).

2. Are they wrong when they say that black models “don’t sell”? – Lets put this way, I HAVE NEVER seen a product that runway /print goddesses, Naomi Campbell , Iman, Tyra Banks,  and Alex Wek would display  that I did not want to buy copious amounts of, spending all I had to feel as fabulous as they looked in that campaign or on that runway. Being honest, it was Madame Naomi that have turned me on to so many new designers, and new aspects of my own style,….can we say Louis Vuitton Kalahari Bag,.allow me to explain. The Kalahari bag by LV was a masterpiece in eclectic, delicious construction and design, BUT ALAS, there was NO male ‘counterpart’ or a male version of that bag that men could ‘rock’.

Even though the fabulous music maven herself, Madge, (thats Madonna for those of that have been under a rock for the last 30 years), was chosen to be the visual spokesperson for this sweet product line, It was Ms. Campbell that ‘moved earth and the universe’, and had me to buy this bag, alterate the shoulder straps, making them longer, transforming a wonderful shoulder bag into a simply gorgeous messenger bag fit for a fashion style master such as myself. Lets put it this way, when I watch runway shows, I ALWAYS compare them to Naomi,…..always, its unconscious, i’m sorry.

Lets get into that “walk” for a minute. Naomi has the type of walk, when she walks down the runway, you LITERALLY forget where you are, you are in the presence of a goddess, and you are deliciously  happy to be there. What she is wearing during this divine, spiritual moment is ingrained into your  soul, into your spirit, thats the ‘power of presence’ she has !

IS not Naomi a black woman?,…..last time I looked, she WAS NOT purple with green spots, but I digress.

In the day and age when a carmel skinned black man is the most powerful man in the free  world, many young blacks NOW feel entitled to be more excepted into arenas that we are normally not accepted into.

News flash at 6:00 pm- It does not work that way black people!

If we want to still be intimately involved in the fashion movement, and continue to make our presence known, we must NOT rest on our laurels, sitting back and feel that the world will take notice of what we have to offer. Yes, the world is very much a different place from when I was a fledgling associate designer some 20 years ago, but MUCH is STILL the same. If we want designers to take our talents and beauty seriously, then we have to become a “super negroes”.

Allow me to elaborate on this age old philosophy that has driven many of our forbearers into the world of equal treatment.

Its simple, you want to be noticed. here is what you have to do: ( take out your notebooks and pencils young fashion brethren):

Shine brighter, be faster, be more beautiful, be more talented than the ‘competition’.

That’s it, its not rocket science, just be damn better than what you see around you!

When a young designer of color walks into a showroom with talents that clearly are ‘leaps and bounds’ over other applicants, YOU WILL get that job, the employer would be an idiot not to hire you, ( and if that’s the case, you DO NOT want to work for them anyways!). He or she sees your talent and smells the elegant, pungent aroma of money, and LOTS of it. So you are a black designer, make sure that every aspect of your design skills are at their premium. A designer that is not just technically literate, but can  use that computer mouse and create INTENSE beauty, transitioning onto a sketch pad, creating ‘fashion miracles’ with your colored pencils is going to get hired. A black designer that can forecast trends, like taking their next breath, interpreting these trends into beautiful, commercially viable product will get hired, there is no ‘if and or buts’ about this fact.

Yes, the fashion industry is notoriously myopic, but she loves one thing more than all, only one thing can move her and that is money. The fashion business is about money, more than discrimination, more than their idiotic ‘tunnel vision’ of  their OWN demographics, money is what moves the industry.

Our younger generation has forgotten, in most part, that nothing is promised and they will never treated equal anywhere on this earth, that is just a sad, but true fact. But instead of making this reality a disastrous detriment, stagnating your growth as a creative and as a human being, have this fact become a dazzling, beautiful attribute. Your skin color, when armed with incredible talent, dazzling beauty and style, becomes the asset that separates you from the herd.  When Naomi first started as a model, her blazing shot to super model-dome was not immediate, in fact many designers did not want to use her at all.

BUT when she did get in front of these collective nay-sayers, ‘the walk’ was invented, this was her moment to prove to them that she was and is the MOST beautiful woman in the world. With each stylized sway of her hips, she portrayed a dynamic aspect of femininity that was new, sexy, all woman, but amazing powerful and full of presence.

Unfortunately, our younger generation has forgotten that we still must prove ourselves to those that feel that we are less than or simply do not matter. What they need to learn is this should be a challenge, the opportunity to conjure a ‘perfect storm’ destroying their stagnant, ignorant expectations of what our skin color portrays to them, ushering in new attitudes, as we take that opportunity to shine brighter than any star, brighter and more dazzling than anything the heavens can display.

These attitudes are not going to change, we are working with ‘creative presidence” and under these creative freedom(s), many single-minded attitudes are  allowed to  thrive, all so that the creative process maintains a form of  democracy. It is the way it should be, but what should change is how we see ourselves. Once we truly understand our intrinsic,divine beauty and talent, the world will have no choice but to bow down in honor,….just ask  Naomi Campbell , Alek Wek , or Tracy Reese, they thrive in a industry known for its ignorance, not in spite of their skin color, but because they learned to combine this natural aspect of their person with amazing talent, presence,drive and determination. So next time you are confronted with a blatant example of ignorance, be not discouraged, they have thrown the ‘gauntlet of expectation’ upon the ground and this is a supreme challenge. Its now up to you to decide if you will accept this wonderfully fabulous dual, utterly destroying their expectations of what they never knew to begin with.


Numéro Magazine Apologizes For Using Blackface On Model/ ‘Creative License’ To Discriminate or Plain Artistic Freedom?



Numéro Magazine has found itself in the middle of a racially-charged firestorm after using a highly bronzed white model in one of its fashion editorials entitled “African Queen.”

In the spread, Ondria Hardin, a 16-year-old, blond-haired, blue-eyed model is seen with darkened skin, striking a pose for the glossy.

The Huffington Post reached out to the magazine for comment and received the following statement Wednesday morning via email:

Some people have declared that they have been offended by the publication in Numéro magazine n°141 of March 2013, of an editorial realized by the photographer Sebastian Kim called “African Queen”, featuring the American model Ondria Hardin posing as an “African queen”, her skin painted in black.

The artistic statement of the photographer Sebastian Kim, author of this editorial, is in line with his previous photographic creations, which insist on the melting pot and the mix of cultures, the exact opposite of any skin color based discrimination. Numéro has always supported the artistic freedom of the talented photographers who work with the magazine to illustrate its pages, and has not took part in the creation process of this editorial.

For its part, Numéro Magazine, which has the utmost respect for this photographer’s creative work, firmly excludes that the latest may have had, at any moment, the intention to hurt readers’ sensitivity, whatever their origin.

Numéro Magazine considers that it has regularly demonstrated its deep attachment to the promotion of different skin-colored models. For instance, the next issue of Numéro for Man on sale on 15th march has the black model Fernando Cabral on the cover page, and the current Russian edition’s cover of our magazine features the black model Naomi Campbell on its cover. This demonstrates the completely inappropriate nature of the accusations made against our magazine, deeply committed to the respect for differences, tolerance and more generally to non-discrimination.

Considering the turmoil caused by this publication, the Management of Numéro Magazine would like to apologize to anyone who may have been offended by this editorial.”

While Numéro does apologize it doesn’t seem to regret the offense.

Although the magazine says it took no part in conceptualizing the story, it did not have to publish the images. Clearly the racially insensitive nature of blackface is lost on Numéro, which is hard to believe since this isn’t the first time the glossy has been ensnared in a controversy like this.

In 2010, the magazine published a fashion spread with model Constance Jablonski, who donned overly bronzed skin and an afro, causing many to shake their heads.

Lesson learned? Apparently not.

With that said, our hopes aren’t completely lifted that anything will change concerning the glaring diversity issues within the fashion industry since the apology only intends to quell hurt feelings, rather than denouncing the practice of such racial exploitation.

Furthermore, pointing out a few covers featuring people of color does not save you from ridicule and definitely doesn’t make the accusations/backlash surrounding the current situation “inappropriate.” What’s inappropriate is not hiring a black model in the first place.

Come on fashion, we can definitely do better.

UPDATE: At 11:03am The Huffington Post received the following statement from photographer Sebastian Kim via email:

“I would like to apologize for any misunderstanding around my recent photos for Numero France. It was never my intention (nor Numero’s) to portray a black woman in this story. Our idea and concept for this fashion shoot was based on 60’s characters of Talitha Getty, Verushka and Marissa Berenson with middle eastern and Moroccan fashion inspiration. We at no point attempted to portray an African women by painting her skin black. We wanted a tanned and golden skin to be showcased as part of the beauty aesthetic of this shoot.

It saddens me that people would interpret this as a mockery of race. I believe that the very unfortunate title “African Queen” (which I was not aware of prior to publication) did a lot to further people’s misconceptions about these images. It was certainly never my intention to mock or offend anyone and I wholeheartedly apologize to anyone who was offended.

Sincerely,Sebastian Kim”

Reading these responses, I do have a few questions,

1. As a fashion designer in the American Fashion Industry that happens to be of african origins, why could they not have used a famous african model, or even an american black model?

2. Is the publication and artist THAT desensitized to race and culture as to simply not care, all under the ‘umbrella of creative license’?

3. When does art and creativity cross the line, from sheer visual inspirations, meant to inspire the masses or viewer of the creative process,  to selfish personal visions that are created in vacuums, being intellectually responsible only to those within that inner,creative circle?

Understanding race and valuing world culture as a whole, as an artist and fashion creative, I am sure I WOULD NOT have made the same mistake. I would NOT want the above scandal tarnishing MY creative career!

That being said, common sense is a virtue that many people simply DO NOT have nor aspire to,…

In the age when black models, internationally, are under represented in so many well known agencies across  this globe, why do so many pretend that this is not an issue?  Many Designers, Creative directors, and Stylist usually sit upon the laurels of “creative freedom” and explain earnestly that no harm is being done, as many african derived models look on in disappointment, and ARE expected to “take it on the chin”, as their fairer brethren seem to dominate much of the industry. Speaking from personal experience as a FASHION DESIGNER in the NYC apparel market for over 20 years, I have seen these well hidden discriminatory practices up front and close. Working hard, juggling multiple task, excelling at one’s craft is a agenda that all fashion designer aspire to. Those that have worked hard, proving themselves to their design brethren, are eventually rewarded with bigger salaries, opportunities to create their own product lines, and prestige as the glass ceiling comes tumbling down.

This is not usually the case for black apparel designers working in corporate. Let me put it this way, if you are a fashion insider in the american corporate fashion industry, and you happen upon a black head  of an apparel company that is not their own, please check for halos and occasional water walking antics, as she or he may be the second coming. This is how rare these opportunities present themselves to blacks in corporate america. Myself, personally, got tired of the ever extending ‘glass ceiling’, growing more and more out of my reach, as I worked harder and harder to establish myself in my career, therefore I left my trusty corporate ‘mini-office’ that I had interiored so beautifully,( My mini pear bonsai flourished in my mini “home away from home”. My space was decored so wonderfully, many of my co-workers loved my space, as they would often come to relax during lunch).  I grew wings and headed to the unpredictable world of freelance design,leaving behind a handsome salary,the umbrella of a 401k, paid medical benefits and vacay, to midnight stays in free clinics and raman noodle casseroles. But it was the MOST beautiful decision I could have made for myself, as a creative HUMAN BEING, and my career. I have traveled as far as Tachikawa,Japan peddling my wares as a freelance fashion designer, and I regret NOTHING. That being said, there are times I am confronted with the ugliness of the american apparel corporate industry, and it sometimes send me plummeting into reality. You see, MANY of my clients are overseas ‘creative partners’, rarely do american companies utilize my services. One ironic situation comes to mind, It was last summer and a very well known company had heard of my creative skills through their european counterpart. A meeting was scheduled and I could not have been happier. I donned a fabulously tailored Christian Doir white two piece. My long dreadlocks, well kept and  wrapped in white silk, smelling of Silver Mountain by Creed, I walked into the corporate office of said company, looking and feeling like a million dollars. After one hour,I was still in the waiting area, when the receptionist sheepishly walked before me and said that my interview had to be rescheduled. I learned later through my european contacts that the design director that I was to meet with, of the american branch of that company, had spotted me in the waiting room and mysteriously wanted to reschedule our preliminary design meeting. EVEN though I had been working with his company for a year, and my european contacts were ECSTATIC  with my work thus far, he denied me a simple 5 minute meeting.

Was this racism,…..or did I use too much cologne? You be the judge.

I often like to humorously think that my cologne offended him horribly, as he ran to his office and spraying Fabreze like a mad banshee. I would hate to think that the latter was the reason, he did not want to meet with me, as he had expected to meet someone more ‘appealing to his sensitivities’. That scenario is crushing, and I won’t allow such thinking.

Sad to say, I lost the account soon afterwards.

This type of behavior runs rampant in the fashion industry, and even more so in the modeling industry. If I had a nickel for every black model friend that has told me in confidence about situations in which they were mad to feel that their skin color was not the  right ‘vision’ for that product line,or that their ‘look’ was too ‘urban’ for the potential client,…well, I would have no need for freelancing and could move to a fabulous thai island. Each designer and or creative is entitled to their ‘vision’ concerning their product, thats their right. But why can’t we as creatives , arbiters of all that is beautiful in this world, seem to free our minds from social,racial constructs? We, as creatives,have been given the distinct and powerful gift of beauty. This gift is meant to be shared with ALL mankind, separating us from mere beast, elevating our souls to something higher within ourselves.

Why the stipulations ?….

Concerning the above scandal, would it not have been more beautiful and striking to have hired a TRUE ‘African Queen’, a model of african lineage, like Alek Wek. Posing her in these beautiful fashions, having her gaze at the camera, taking us back in time,igniting our imaginations.Visualizing this long,sinewy beauty in all her dark black glory, we would be swept back to the mystical serengetis of Africa, juxtaposing european high fashion with the magical beauty of Africa, all in one picture. Instead, one paints a european model a darker hue and have her ‘mimic’ what Alek Wek was born with naturally. One can not be in the mind of the creator of these images, nor the minds that decided to christen the images “African Queen”. We will never know if their motives were based on racism, as it is difficult to know what is in the heart of such individuals. What is evident is the scandal that such images have created,individuals of color and their supporters around the world crying foul.

What is TRUE for all to witness, is that common sense was not used, as the creators of these now infamous images decided to ‘throw caution to the wind’ of race and culture, instead concentrating on creative providence.

Fashion travels at a supreme high speed, like a cherry red ferrari on the autobahn of style called trends. These trends are usually out dated even before they reach the masses, this is the business of fashion and how it works internationally. I would never think of throwing a cup of water out of the passenger window said ferrari, traveling at 200 mph, I hope I don’t need to explain why. Maybe Numero’ Magazine needs to keep this cliche’ in mind.

Its just good ole’ common sense.