Are Fashion Campaigns Finally Getting More Racially Diverse? 9 Examples That Seem Promising

We still have a long way to go when it comes to equalizing racial issues in the fashion industry, but these fantastic campaigns show that we’re on the right track.

Jul 9, 2013 at 10:00am | Leave a comment

As we know, I am not exactly fashion central. I leave that to the experts here at xoJane, because their style will always be infinitely cooler than mine. (I embody the tradition of the freelancer who lives in pajamas and becomes extremely resentful when forced to squeeze into Grown Up Clothing.)

But I will confess that I kind of love looking at fashion, even if it’s not a thing I want to personally wear or get into (like I need another expensive habit). And that holds especially true at the hair salon, which is always scattered with magazines of people wearing amazing, fascinating, and super-cool clothes. There are few things in this world I love quite as much as sitting under the hair dryer and flipping through a copy of “Vogue,” and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

At the same time that I love looking at fashion, though, I’m acutely aware of the narrowness of the industry. We don’t see a lot of fat women modeling haute couture, for example, and in fact designers like Lagerfeld have made some pretty hateful statements indicating that they don’t want to see that change any time soon. We also don’t see a lot of women of color on the runways and in catalogs.

Instead, what we primarily see are young white women, some of whom are really more like girls, exploited by an industry that tends not to treat models very well. And, of course, the celebrity faces of brands, many of whom are also white.

The whiteness of the fashion industry is something that’s slowly changing, though, and James Lim just pointed out at Buzzfeed that there are actually a fair number of campaigns featuring diverse modeling talent in this fall’s advertisements, and that is something exciting and worth talking about.

Because while fashion is often discussed as something limited to people with the financial means to get into it, it should be democratic. I don’t have to collect fine fashion to appreciate it, I like looking at reports from runway shows, I enjoy reading about the latest styles. And diversity in the industry means that people are more likely to see themselves in that fashion, and to think about how fashion isn’t just a thing for wealthy, slender white women.

It’s for everyone.

Some of the campaigns Lim highlighted include the large crop of Asian models this year, including Soo Joo from Korea and Chiharu Okunugi from Japan for Chanel:

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One of my personal favorites, Chinese model Fei Fei Sun, who looks fabulous no matter what she is wearing, even when it is totally ridiculous, represented Prada:

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Gem R, Herieth Paul, and Soo Joo looked dramatic for Tom Ford in dresses that aren't quite my thing, but are still, uh, a definite statement, if you know what I am saying, and I think you do. 

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Chinese models Grace Gao, Xiao Wen Ju, Tian Yi, Ming Xi, and Jia Jing for DSquared, and don't they look like they just emerged from a speakeasy and they're ready to keep partying all night?

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Etro booked Korean model Sung Hee Kim and Chinese model Nan Fulong for this campaign which I kind of love for all the rich textures, colors, and accents going on. I want to plunge into this strange room filled with people who look like they're caught in the middle of a murder mystery. 

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Brahim Zaibot, Brad Allen, David Agbodji, Nate Gill, and Salieu Jalloh represented some serious gentlemanly gorgeousness, also for DSquared, and I would wear the heck out of every single one of these suits:

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Glorious Joan Smalls modeled for Hugo Boss. She's kind of a big deal, and I can see why. That facial structure. Oh my. 

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Liya Kebede of Ethiopia appeared with Chinese model Liu Wen for Roberto Cavalli. I think they're on the run from some sort of rave gone bad. Or they just beat up a Bond girl. 

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Malaika Firth became Prada’s first Black model in a campaign since 1994! You go, Prada. Way to break that 19-year streak. 

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Make no mistake: there is still a lot of whiteness in fashion advertising. But this array of beautiful models of color shows that things are starting to change, and they’re shifting the tone of ad campaigns. We’re seeing more and more models of color with cover campaigns, appearing in major runway shows, and more.

We still have a long way to go when it comes to equalizing racial issues in the fashion industry, but these fantastic campaigns show that we’re on the right track.

And for those who think there are more important things to care about, or that racial inequalities in fashion don’t really matter when it comes to larger social issues, fashion matters. Immensely. There’s a reason xoJane’s resident grump follows fashion. Not just because it’s pretty, but also because it informs social attitudes and is a critical method of expression. What people see in fashion reflects their society, and people internalize and repeat what they absorb in fashion campaigns.

When fashion campaigns boldly show diverse models, that matters. A lot.

Image credits: Buzzfeed