by Our New Fashion Correspondent Joseph Lamour
Racism in the fashion industry is still alive and well. Duh. I have to say it somewhere in an article like this, so I thought, why not get it out the way from the start? However, the opinions put forth in Charles Beckwith’s modaCYCLE rebuttal piece “Racism In Fashion” are not themselves racist. But they certainly are ironic.
I think he might have forgotten to italicize part of his title. Racism: In Fashion. Can’t you just hear Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa in the background? Beckwith explains why Naomi Campbell has appeared on 8 covers of Vogue and Kate Moss has appeared on 24, is because consumers (read white consumers) want to see someone in the clothes that they want to be. Kate Moss dated Pete Doherty for a long stretch- I’m pretty sure no one’s clamoring to be in her shoes these days. But would they rather be in Naomi’s or Kate’s? An editor apparently lost their job over making the wrong choice, and Beckwith states:
“I have never met Naomi Campbell, nor can I confirm or dispel the claim of an Australian editor being fired for putting her on a cover. Though, if an editor had been fired for putting Ms. Campbell on a cover, no evidence was cited that would lead anyone to believe that the action was specifically related to racism more than likely profit motives.”
But, in what world are these mutually exclusive? In Ms. Campbell’s defense, if someone got canned partially in relation to your face, wouldn’t you be upset? I might not call a bunch of publicists, but is it so far fetched that it couldn’t be true? Maybe fashion recycles social mores as much as they recycle trends.
…subjectively, [sic] Kate Moss is a much stronger model with more ability to transform her face, and she is generally better liked in the business than the ill-tempered cell phone-throwing and community service sentence-serving Ms. Campbell.
Is Kate Moss is a stronger model? You can’t see it, but I’m side eyeing. Kate is indisputably an excellent model. She’s an inspiration for solid gold sculptures. She can slip through cracks in floors. I would imagine she is generally more likable.
Perhaps not near ledges or piers, however. I know, she probably knew the kid she pushed off a pier into the ocean. Kidding aside, didn’t Kate get caught on camera doing something illegal? Why no mention of that? And why not mention Alex Wek or Lea T or Liu Wen? I would never disparage one group to defend another, but, notice he uses only positive adjectives for Kate and only negative-tinged, multi-faceted, overly-dashed adjectives for Naomi. We all know Naomi isn’t a bed of honeysuckle on a warm summer day, but frankly, I think he just doesn’t like her. I mean, for good reason, she’s intimidating. That doesn’t mean that Naomi doesn’t have a point.
Later in his piece, he becomes much less incendiary and much more amusing. Still, after reading the first half I felt an overwhelming sense that I’ve been here before, reading this article, because Beckwith is conjecturing that it isn’t fashion’s fault. Minorities in fashion put people off buying expensive things. Look at the market research. I conducted my own “lazy survey” and spoke with friend who is a white and fashionable, blond and blue eyed, and works at a gallery. I asked if she would be more or less likely to buy something if say, the model used to be a man. Her reply? “What does that matter?”
The reality is that there about a million things going on in someone’s head at once before they make a purchasing decision, and maybe if I see someone I don’t want to emulate in the clothes I won’t want to buy them. Maybe my friend was being nice because she was talking to her gay black friend. The idea that the race or gender identity of the person wearing the clothes affects the consumer buying it is an excuse to disinclude. Soft racism if you will. In the end, it doesn’t matter if a man is wearing a dress, if you really really like the dress, you’re going to buy it. You’re probably going to want to try it on first.
[On making it illegal to discriminate based on race in the fashion arena:]
“I’m certainly not advocating more “black face” makeup on Caucasians or a drag queen takeover of Ralph Lauren campaigns, but that is what is being talked about.”
Now saying something like that just makes me want to get RuPaul and Ralph in a room together. Wouldn’t that get your attention? Who among us has looked at a Ralph Lauren, Emporio Armani or Davidoff ad for more than three seconds while flipping through a magazine? Do they even make Cool Water anymore? Fashion for the most part has become so set in it’s ways that when a new concept comes along, they either celebrate it (like the tattooed model or the albino model) or admonish it. This all boils down to reluctance to take risks. I personally think a lot of the fashion elite are afraid of change. Beckwith asserts throughout his article that it is an indisputable fact that black models are less profitable than their white counterparts:
Until there is an affluent consumer base behaving less alienated to dark faces, and that demand starts to exist from them for the thousands of new $10,000 evening dresses every 6 months, there is no reason for commercial enterprise to be pushing them to an audience that cannot afford them.
Does the phrase “dark faces” make anyone else need a glass of water? The fact of the matter is no one is buying $10,000 evening dresses in this economy. That’s why you can find Chanel Creative Director Karl Lagerfeld shilling his (admittedly, gorgeous) wares at Macys now. And, of course, all the models are all still white.
(Thanks to reader C for the tip!)