Dark Princess


If mainstream fashion showcases won’t open its doors to the “others” and black fashion showcases aren’t willing to show the breadth of silhouettes, then there is much more at stake than not having a dark-hued covergirl.

Iman in 1996 (Wiki Commons).

Five years ago, Vogue Magazine asked to no one and to everyone in particular, “Is Fashion Racist?” Everyone was asked because it was an earnest question. Yet, it was for no one, truly, because according to a recent International Herald Tribune article (the international edition of The New York Times, which came with a striking graphic), nothing since 2008 has changed. Industry wide, 88% of all models are white, with the amount of black models down from 8% to now only 6% in one season. Casting directors and fashion houses themselves stop short of blatantly denying models of color, with even Jourdan Dunn and Joan Smalls complaining about the treatment. Thus, even the most powerful fashion magazine in the world cannot persuade the waves of taste and aesthetic makers to switch course.

Yet, with the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York on the horizon, some are not taking this challenge sitting down. Former model and agency founder, Bethann Hardison, is re-initiating her “Black Girls Coalition,” a panel series dedicated to stimulating conversations about race in the industry amongst models themselves. Hardison is also spearheading a social media campaign to out specific designers who aren’t using black models.

Perhaps the most outspoken advocate for Black models (the International Herald Tribune deemed some of her comments unprintable) is Iman. The Somalian born fashion icon: “We have a president and a first lady who are black… You would think things have changed, and then you realize that they have not. In fact, things have gone backward.’’

Some black designers, already hip to the homogenous culture of the fashion industry, have begun their own thing. Adama Paris has successfully begun Dakar, Montreal, and last year’s first ever Paris Black Fashion Week. Scores of black models and iconic designers like Niger’s Alphadi poured into a venue adjacent to Paris’ Opera, determined to celebrate black beauty and fashion in their own space. Yet, even here the idea of diversity was complex.

It was a joy seeing dark, ebony skin tucked under pale and bold prints. Natural and weaved hair bobbed to throbbing house music. Yet, even here, the varied amount of silhouettes found in black communities, all communities, weren’t represented. One designer noted that she always had a European silhouette and aesthetic in mind when arranging her collections. Thus, if the mainstream fashion showcases won’t open its doors to the “others” and black fashion showcases aren’t willing to show the breadth of silhouettes to potential clients, then there is much more at stake than not having a dark-hued covergirl.

The mainstream fashion industry doesn’t want us. Even with former models like Iman incensed, the problem still partly lies within the Black fashion community as well for even here, we keep a very prim aesthetic. No curvy models, forget about overweight. No variations in height. It’s a black carbon copy of what’s keeping us out, and is also losing a potential client base, if you want to talk about business. So, it’s not just the mainstream fashion industry, of which we are a part of and help to continue this aesthetic. It’s also within our own institutions.

Further Reading

A power crisis

Andre De Ruyter, the former CEO of Eskom, has presented himself as a simple hero trying to save South Africa’s struggling power utility against corrupt forces. But this racially charged narrative is ultimately self-serving.

Cinematic universality

Fatou Cissé’s directorial debut meditates on the uncertain fate and importance of Malian cinema amidst the growing dismissiveness towards the humanities across the world.

The meanings of Heath Streak

Zimbabwean cricketing legend Heath Streak’s career mirrors many of the unresolved tensions of race and class in Zimbabwe. Yet few white Zimbabwean sporting figures are able to stir interest and conversation across the nation’s many divides.


After winning Italy’s Serie A with Napoli, Victor Osimhen has cemented his claim to being Africa’s biggest footballing icon. But is the trend of individual stardom good for sports and politics?

The magic man

Chris Blackwell’s long-awaited autobiography shows him as a romantic rogue; a risk taker whose life compass has been an open mind and gift to hear and see slightly into the future.

How to think about colonialism

Contemporary approaches to the legacy of colonialism tend to narrowly emphasize political agency as the solution to Africa’s problems. But agency is configured through historically particular relations of which we are not sole authors.

More than just a flag

South Africa’s apartheid flag has been declared hate speech by a top court. But while courts are important and their judgments matter, racism is a long and internationally entrenched social phenomenon that cannot be undone via judicial processes.

Resistance is a continuous endeavor

For more than 75 years, Palestinians have organized for a liberated future. Today, as resistance against Israeli apartheid intensifies, unity and revolutionary optimism has become the main infrastructure of struggle.

Paradise forgotten

While there is much to mourn about the passing of legendary American singer and actor Harry Belafonte, we should hold a place for his bold statement-album against apartheid South Africa.