Hey, Fashion Mags: How Come It's Still Only White Girls on Your Covers?
If Hollywood is a “white industry,” as Chris Rock proclaimed in his infamous op-ed in The Hollywood Reporter, the fashion business is also pretty pale. The style community might seem like a bastion of creativity and inclusivity, but when it comes to which models get to strut the world’s most glamorous runways—or grace the covers of the most prestigious glossies—as with Tinseltown, the fashion world is racially homogenous.
How bad is the lack of diversity? According to an analysis of top fashion magazine covers by The Fashion Spot’s Jihan Forbes, models of color are mostly missing in action. Of the 611 covers published by 44 major print magazines, only 119, or 19 percent, included nonwhite models. While it might be tempting to consider nearly one-fifth of covers as a promising number, the overwhelming use of white models in nonwhite countries such as Japan and Korea—and the dearth of any models of color this year on either the U.S. or U.K. editions of Harper's Bazaar or the U.K. edition of Vogue—belies the industry’s supposed inclusivity.
Though Vogue remains one of the most storied and popular fashion magazines around the world, with versions in Brazil, France, Italy, Japan, Korea, and other countries, Forbes found that it was the least inclusive publication of the bunch.
“The biggest offender, however, goes to Vogue U.K.,” wrote Forbes, noting that the magazine failed to feature a woman of color by herself on a cover in 2014. “One of Britain's most prominent and in-demand models, Jourdan Dunn, wasn't afforded a cover, despite her impressive body of work and overall popularity. Yet Cara Delevingne and Kate Moss were given two covers each,” she wrote.
After Forbes found that Vogue Japan only included one woman of Japanese descent in its last 14 covers she concluded, “Fashion continues to have a global diversity problem.”
While Vogue has expanded across Europe, Asia, and South America, the company has yet to release an African version of the magazine. In May 2012 L’Uomo Vogue, the glossy’s Italian imprint, produced an “All Africa” issue, but editor Franca Sozzani said more people have to “believe in” Africa before Vogue Africa hits shelves.
There’s a glaring problem with that line of thinking: Africa has six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world, and fashion magazines like South Africa’s True Love, France’s Fashizblack, and Uganda’s African Woman Magazine are already building a loyal audience.
Efforts to increase the representation of models of color are under way. In 2013 veteran African American model and agent Bethann Hardison founded the Diversity Coalition, an advocacy group that “encourages the industry to be inclusive of racial diversity” when casting models for runway shows and editorial spreads. In September 2013 Hardison released a searing letter calling out the industry and challenging it to change.
“Eyes are on an industry that season after season watches design houses consistently use one or no models of color. No matter the intention, the result is racism,” she wrote. “Not accepting another based on the color of their skin is clearly beyond ‘aesthetic’ when it is consistent with the designer’s brand. Whether it’s the decision of the designer, stylist or casting director, that decision to use basically all white models, reveals a trait that is unbecoming to modern society.”
Hardison’s efforts caught the eye of the fashion community, and after she published a breakdown of how many models of color each designer used across runways in New York, Paris, and Milan, the former model said the industry showed “a marked improvement on the runways” in 2014. Still, as the lack of representation on the covers of magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar reveals, there’s more work to be done.