There comes a time in your career when an important realisation occurs. You “get” things. You “get” it. Like you get that white people will only buy clothes if they see it modelled on other white people. And that white people will only buy high fashion magazines because they like to see other white people in it. And that token models of colour are just a white model’s accessory. What? Did I just say that? I did and I’m not taking any of those words back. Perhaps I’m young and I’ve only been in this industry for two or more so years, my experience may also be limited but how racist this industry is, is no surprise. It is however disheartening.
Under all the fluff this industry is wired into the capitalist system – it functions so as to make dollars. Billions of dollars! And if that means propagating a certain image – the white model – to earn the dollar, so be it. And this is where I’m crestfallen. I’m a person of colour who works and supports this industry that propagates such an image. What can I do to change it? I am ridden with guilt. Perhaps use more models of colour in my shoots? Sounds like a perfectly acceptable solution but the problem is where are the models of colour at the modelling agencies. Only a select few ever appear on agency websites and the more high profile the agency, the less models of colour. I ask myself, why? Most fashion production is no longer based in the “West” but instead in Asia or South America – yet how many Asian or South American models who have noticeable ‘colour’ appear in the pages of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar or even GQ? And when they do they are reduced to something equivalent to an accessory or a prop in an ethnic setting where a white model has been placed.
So if I can’t request models of colour from agencies…why don’t I street cast and make my own niche agency featuring models of colour? Another question I have asked myself and answered – how big is the chance of this venture succeeding and earning income if the business profits because white people want to see white people wearing nice clothes. I, for one, don’t want to provide anyone with such false hope under the delusion that such a venture would succeed. Now I can hear you calling me a nihilist and someone who see the glass as half-empty. True but it’s better than investing in disillusion.
Then what am I trying to say – you ask. What I am trying to say is this: there needs to be a shift in the mindset of how we Westerners ‘consume’. Australia is first and foremost a country that belongs to its Indigenous population. For f**ksake, it should be an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander girl in local Australian fashion designs gracing the cover of Australian Vogue every month!!! Also Australia from its earliest beginnings has always been a multicultral country, can we please reflect that in our fashion magazines, fashion weeks and fashion advertising campaigns!!? The disjunction between what we see in the fashion rags and what we see in the stores and the streets is tiring. Next (and more culturally diverse) phase please!
Now I’ve come full circle. Why I first thought about making such a post, frustration. Being men’s fashion editor at OnTheStreetsofSydney.com I’ve been in the process of casting for some male models for our upcoming editorial and the lack of colour at each agency I have approached has been frustrating. To put it roughly – I’m sick of just working with white faces. One’s creativity is stifled by the simple lack of access. Diversity breeds creativity. Whatever happened to it?
That is all.
Images are of Yifan @ eMg Models walking for Friend of Mine SS11/12. My favourite model who walked so many shows at this year’s RAFW.
Images credit: Stefan Gosatti at Getty Images AsiaPacific