Earlier this year, National Public Radio featured a revealing story that provided candid insight into how increasing the visibility of black models during a 1970's French fashion show changed the industry forever. During this time black models were considered “exotic rarities” and the emergence of an abundance of models of color made for a “turning-heads kind of revolution.”
Today, Ford Modeling Agency is considered one of the top agencies in the United States known for their top-notch models and global impact in fashion. They recently released a promotional catalog exclusively featuring black models of all shapes and sizes, ranging from 4 to 14.
Media outlets from beauty blogs to fashion sites are all varying on their reactions to the promo.
Huffington Post lightheartedly describes Ford Models as jumping on the “models-of-color-bandwagon.” Yet, some feel that while the spread speaks to the progressive career of these women, a bigger issue might be being ignored about the seemingly innocent relegation of black models.
Historically, black female models and entertainers have typically been underrepresented and, at times, horribly misrepresented in the media. However, legendary, beautiful and ubiquitous black models like Beverly Johnson, Iman, Tyra Banks and others have made some very significant strides forward within the industry.
When asked about her opinion on the Ford Models promo shoot, New York stylist KaiLee Parker countered with a significant question of her own.
“Why is it always all the black girls in one editorial as opposed to black models sprinkled through out the entire magazine?”
Her inquiry speaks to a trend that's surfaced in the fashion world. Recently, a number of fashion publications have also chosen to exclusively feature black models in their promotional spread as well as in magazine editorials. Vogue Italia released an issue earlier this year in February for a spread aptly named “Black Allure” starring a handful of currently popular models, including Ajak Deng, Lais Ribeiro, Joan Smalls and Jourdan Dunn.
Parker, who recently styled three-time Grammy award winners Erica Campbell and Tina Campbell of Mary Mary for their Good Morning America appearance, offered her frank opinion on the emerging fad.
“I love that more agencies are showing more diversity when it comes to their black model roster. However, it seems like we only get featured as a collective unit.”
Because diversity includes a number of issues across a wide spectrum of factors, maybe singling out specific groups to showcase sends an unclear message to the audience.Interestingly, Ford Models also released a promotional spread that exclusively featured blond, plus-size models, bringing our collective attention to a broader issue within the modeling and fashion world aside from race or skin color.
On the one hand, the exclusive attention is appreciated, and in the case of black models, well overdue. However, for some, it may not be seen as a solution towards incorporating more black models into regular fashion spreads, but rather, another way of needlessly designating them apart from their peers.
For others, the promo spread represents a step towards highlighting their unique potential and illuminating their noteworthy contributions to an industry that initially rejected them.