It was just Thursday when we wondered why fashion designers and editors don’t seem to be able to use models of color without exoticizing/exploiting their race or culture. And last summer, we discussed Vogue’s obsession with romanticizing colonized Africa and Asia.
Folks at Hermes must have been reading closely because they managed to squeeze both blunders into a single ad campaign.
Check out their new ads, featuring desi model Lakshmi Menon. And lo and behold, what else appears in the ads? Elephants! With colorful henna-esque tattoos! And jodhpurs! Lest we forget the glorious days of British colonial rule in India!
Last season Vivienne Westwood raised a few eyebrows when she publicly lambasted fashion editors, calling them racist for refusing to use black models on their pages. Westwood even went as far as to call for an affirmative action of sorts, to force editors to use a certain percentage of black models. Later, she also spoke of her upcoming ads which would feature the beautiful Kenyan model Ajuma Nasenyana, no stranger to Westwood’s runway, as the face of the Spring campaign.
I was impressed with Westwood’s willingness to speak so openly about what we’ve all been decrying for years and looked forward to seeing the new ads with Ajuma (whom I think is one of the most stunning models to emerge in the last few years.) In my view, the grande dame could have just as easily said nothing, accepted the status quo, and had another cup of tea.
Well, low and behold, the ads have finally made their way into fashion magazines and sadly, I am not impressed. Westwood’s ads are usually on the fringe but seeing Ajuma posing with a spear and gun in a series of ads that also includes African masks, animal corpses and even bananas is crossed the line from provocative to stereotypical and wholly unnecessary.
Is it a political message? I don’t know. Shot by Juergen Teller, they are certainly eye-catching. Nasenyana’s dark shiny skin absorbs ever bit of the stark white background. In one, Ajuma wears a yellow and green dress reminiscent of the plumage of an exotic bird while holding a machine gun. In spite of the dress, Ajuma, with her closely cropped hair and somewhat androgynous appearance, could easily be mistaken for a young boy, or more aptly, a child soldier, much like the ones who are all too often shown on the evening news or in documentaries on Africa’s war torn regions. Is this ‘empowerment’ or is Westwood alluding to the ‘force’ she wants used to put models like Ajuma on the pages of Vogue and Elle?
Another image show Ajuma standing behind an armchair, casually holding the hand of a casually seated white male model who is also holding a gun while yet another has her alone, holding a spear.
Maybe it’s just my own irritation at this subject but I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would be if say Gisele or Kate Moss were photographed in this ‘safari chic’ manner nearly every time they appeared in an ad or editorial. Or better yet, as cavewomen? Wouldn’t it be promptly dismissed as tiresome or unoriginal? I have honestly seen Ajuma, and other black models, used in this exploitative manner dozens and dozens of times.
Where fashion used to be a fun past-time for me, it has now become repetitive and tiresome.
I’ve posted before about the refusal of some fashion photographers to view black female models as anything but an exotic other, to be dressed up in feathers or pelts to exploit their racial origins. To see this trend continued into yet another decade is troubling. Haven’t we made any progress?
As for Dame Westwood, to her I would say that although I appreciate her support of the struggle, maybe next time she should just send a check.
A few weeks ago, while walking along the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, a well-known strip for the burgeoning fashionista or the credit card terrorist, I stopped dead in my tracks. Though normally oblivious to any movement around me on the streets near my office, especially as most of the foot traffic in midtown is comprised of the steps of awed tourists or jaded ladies who lunch, the one story-tall photo to my right as I approached the corner of 49th street compelled me to give pause. I had been rendered still by the image of a South Asian-American man dressed in red, black, and white wearing a turban. His right hand lifted to adjust his sunglasses in cool indifference, the handsome face was an unusual one—at least to be seen on an advertisement on Fifth Avenue.
Upon closer inspection, I learned the name of the bearer of these model good looks. “SONNY CABERWAL,” the sign read, “PRACTICING SIKH AND ENTREPRENEUR SPEAKING OUT AGAINST RACIAL PROFILING.” Caberwal, the North Carolina-born Duke University and Georgetown Law graduate and owner of Tavalon Tea Bar in New York City, was part of Kenneth Cole’s new campaign “We All Walk in Different Shoes.”
Cole, a New York based fashion designer known for his humanitarian efforts and philanthropy, was the first member of the fashion community to enlist in the global fight against HIV/AIDS in 1985, a time when little was known about the virus and even less was known about the people struggling to survive it. Cole decided to base his current campaign on the motto “25 years of non-uniform thinking” and what has become his most famous mantra:
“What you stand for is more important than what you stand in. To be aware is more important than what you wear.”
Via the Kenneth Cole website, one can learn about the individual participants in the campaign, all activists in their own right, ranging from the stories of partners – one a married lesbian couple, another a film-making duo comprised of an Israeli and a Palestinian—to the powerful stories of individuals, including those of Caberwal, whom I mentioned previously, Regan Hoffman, the HIV+ Editor-in-Chief of POZ Magazine, Aimee Mullins, Paralympic athlete and actor, and Patrick Sammon, the President of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group for conservative gays and lesbians. The real-life models for this campaign are of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, levels of physical ability, sexual orientations, and political leanings, but exist as evidence that anyone can look good in Kenneth Cole.
Though cynics could easily argue that this is simply an attempt by the Kenneth Cole label team to garner attention for their wares, the campaign takes the fashion industry a few steps ahead, primarily because it not only lends itself to encouraging activism and social progress, but also because it blatantly acknowledges that one can receive attention for a clothing or accessories line without relying solely upon an emaciated and predominately white fleet of models. I stopped in my tracks that day on Fifth Avenue because I was so shocked to see an Asian-American male involved in a fashion ad, but I still noticed the clothes. Despite what seems to be a popular belief in the fashion industry, his tan skin did not take attention away from the impact of the colors and fabrics upon it. Nor did Delmon Dunston’s wheelchair distract me from noticing his electric blue sleeveless shirt. In fact, his wheelchair, with its silver and black casing, allowed for a more dynamic color contrast. The clothing and accessories were enhanced by the models Cole’s team had chosen.
So as thousands of designers and modeling agencies around the globe continue to reject models of color, of size, or of varied physical abilities, Cole has provided his buying audience, or even those who just stop to admire the advertisements as art pieces, the opportunity to judge beauty for themselves.
To read more about the models chosen for this campaign, please click here.
The prolonged strike has changed business conditions and our programming strategy for the balance of the 2007/08 season. To better focus its creative and financial resources, The CW will only resume production on shows that are in consideration for renewal next year. As a result, we will not order additional episodes of the long-running comedy, `Girlfriends,’ which planned to conclude its 8-year run at the end of this season. This was a very difficult decision for us, and was based solely on the considerable cost to license each episode in an extremely unusual business environment.
I think that Girlfriends is one of the few shows on TV that has consistently dealt with race in a realistic and interesting way. The quality of the show has definitely had its ups and downs (that whole story arc where Joan and William become a couple was horrifying) but I’ve been a loyal viewer almost from the beginning. Plus, the clothes were always fab — way better than that ridiculousness on Sex and the City.
This show is such a staple that among my friends, “Joan” has become a verb. When we tell each other to “stop Joaning,” we mean: “stop obsessing neurotically and overthinking things and messing up a good thing by imagining the worst-case scenario!”
After getting to know these characters for so many years, it’s kind of unbelievable that the network isn’t even bothering with a series finale to give us a sense of closure.
*Caitlin’s African-American assistant is sporting a clean new shape up in episode three. What happened to the dreds?
*Alicia has been described as the “hot cocoa love interest,” oy! Still waiting to see if Alicia makes it through the season.
*Still no Jack Yang. What are they waiting for? Oh, whew – just checked the “fan” site – looks like he’ll make an appearance on Wednesday.
*Can I just say boo to Mia’s “let’s talk about this” editor’s letter? Your ex went for blood by scheduling the evil man-eating woman cover – why the hell didn’t you bring it in the note from the publisher?
*Lipstick Jungle advertisements! Competition is coming!
*Oh no, spoiler “fan” site also says that Caitlin finds herself attracted to a man she meets at the lesbian baby shower. Is this the end for Alicia?
How to Look Good Naked (Lifetime)
I. Don’t. Do. Lifetime.
I can’t stand that channel.
But somehow, someway, I managed to watch one episode of Carson Kressley’s How to Look Good Naked and became instantly hooked. The show is just excellent. While I wasn’t a huge fan of Queer Eye, Carson manages to sculpt and shape a show that encourages women to see their bodies for what they are – not what society says they should be.
We’ve been pretty critical of American Apparel on this site for its exoticization of multiracial people, its pseudo-pornographic ads, and founder Dov Charney’s overall ickiness.
But what do you think about their latest ad campaign (click pic for full-size image), which deals with the immigration issue? From The New York Times:
…The black-and-white quarter-page advertisements show American Apparel employees of Guatemalan origin — fully clothed. The ads have run in newspapers like The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times over the last month. Like the company’s usual sexually charged ads for T-shirts and leggings, the political ad bears the imprint of Mr. Charney, himself an immigrant from Canada.
“These people don’t have freedom of mobility, they’re living in the shadows,” he said in an interview. “This is at the core of my company, at the core of my soul.”
…“Let me be clear who makes our clothes. It is a collaboration between American-born people and non-American-born people,” he said. “I don’t think supporting immigration reflects negatively on my brand, and in fact, it makes it look like we’re a responsible business.”
…Some immigration experts criticized the advertisement and said it amounted to an admission that American Apparel uses illegal immigrants.
…Mr. Charney said the company was careful to make sure that its workers presented the necessary documentation for employment.
…Mr. Charney said American Apparel’s customers appreciate the company’s views on immigration. He said his customers were “borderless.” He named the company American Apparel, rather than “USA Apparel,” he said, on purpose.
“I think my Latino workers are American workers,” he said. “They’re from the Americas. We’re all here together.”
Jezebel does an interesting review of Rajaa AlSanea’s Girls of Riyadh that focuses on the consumptive angle of the book; i.e., how obsessed with luxury goods upper class Saudi women are.
While the review itself wasn’t a revelation (I think that an obsession with luxury goods is a stereotype or symptom of upper classes in many cultures), the comments were. Aside from the outright Islamophobic comments, there seems to be a general consensus among Jezebel’s readers that most Middle Eastern women are vapid label whores:
“I went to school with a large population of Middle Easterners and I will say I’ve never seen nicer bags or shoes in my life. Many of the girls dressed like they were going out to the club right from class, even in the middle of the winter.”
“I don’t think that they’ve acquired their taste for luxury goods from the West; I think it’s been there since Saudi Arabia has existed.”
“Yeap agreeing with everyone above who said that many middle-eastern women are obsessed with designer items, particularly the very flashy and logo-laden items. My Saudi girlfriend explained that since most women can’t be very creative or showy with their clothese, there is a particular emphasis on status shoes, handbags, and sunglasses. Makes sense. Hanging with her friends, I totally see it– even in the US these girls will still be DECKED OUT with the logos and glitz.”
“Honestly, the men were just as bad. I used to sleep with a Saudi guy who had more clothes than any woman I’ve ever met. He also had two watches that were worth more than everything I own combined. The guys were always in the newest sneakers and tight jeans from brands I’d never even heard of. I guess if you have to wear a dress at home, you’re looking for something nice and fitted when you’re in the US!”
“have to concur that there’s nothing “western” about this obsession and the middle east could put america to shame with their label-whoring and general eurotrashiness.”
If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Either we’re all oppressed and can’t have rights we really want, or we don’t give a damn about our rights because we just want pretty handbags and expensive jewelry.
Any time one makes a comment that generalizes about a particular geographical/religious group, s/he falls into stereotype country. Many of those who commented haven’t even read the book; they just wanted to get in on the Middle Eastern women-bashing. But this goes beyond regular old horizontal hostility because these posters are ascribing the negative attribute of “label-whoriness” to a particular ethnic/geographical group. Not to mention the derogatory comments about the dishdasha (or, as the second to last poster put it, “a dress.” Dishdashas are considered professional wear for men in the gulf much like suits in the West, as well as traditional clothing).
Well. This hurts my feelings so much I’m going to put on my nicest pair of stilettos and go buy myself another designer bag.
(Well, at least compared to the increasingly unpalatable fare of reality TV.)
While Darren Star’s offering is derivative and all too reliant on Sex and the City style, there is just enough potential (read: there is some form of a script) to warrant me watching the next episode.
* Great visuals. Though a lot of the written jokes fell flat, the crew kept it going with the visual cues. There are a couple key scenes (Juliet and Mia with the glass of wine, the dramatic announcement at Zoe’s daughter’s recital) that play well due to the staging.
* Spotted! Looks like an Asian American guy does get to play the hottie for a while.
Actor Jack Yang signed on to play Doctor Jason Chun, a cute brain surgeon who is fixed up with Mia on a blind date. Think he’ll make it? (Warning: This link goes straight to a spoiler.)
Here’s to hoping he gets a fair chance to represent. Good luck Jack!
* Looks like minorities are going to get regular paychecks after all. I saw more people in varying shades of tan/brown in the first episode of Cashmere Mafia than I spotted on the entire first season of Sex and the City. According to IMDB, it looks like they will have continuing roles. Griffin Matthews (playing Patrick, Caitlin’s assistant), Lourdes Benedicto (playing Caitlin’s love interest), Purva Bedi (unnamed role, booked for three shows), all join Jack Yang for multiple episodes.
*The day to day (and some of the late night) fashion is fabulous. Lucy Liu’s black top in her deal clinching meeting, the bags, the black and white evening dress. Luckily, some people already got on this and found some cool pieces that replicate what was on the show.
* The writing. The main writers for the show are listed as Kevin Wade (Maid in Manhattan, Meet Joe Black, Working Girl), Terri Minsky (Sex and the City, Lizzie MacGuire), and Jeff Rake. Now, I was skeptical checking out the male to female ratio on the writing staff and some of the credits, but I figured I needed to watch and see. And did we ever see. Continue reading →
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World