Supermodel Jessica White and diversity group call for greater black presence in fashion industry
By Marianne Garvey, Brian Niemietz and Lachlan Cartwright
Superstar model Jessica White sees one Fashion Week trend she’s not crazy about: the lack of black models.
While at DKNY’s 25th Birthday Bash, the 29-year-old beauty told Confidenti@l that African-Americans are struggling to be accepted as models and designers in the upper echelons of the fashion industry.
“Fashion is constantly changing from decade to decade, but I don’t see a change in how many black faces I see on the runway, and it’s something we should talk about because it’s a problem,” said White.
At the start of New York Fashion Week, former model and Diversity Coalition spokeswoman Bethann Hardison fired off a letter urging the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which oversees Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, to increase diversity on the runway.
“Eyes are on an industry that season after season watches design houses consistently use one or no models of color,” Hardison wrote.
The letter also called out a long list of designers and houses, including BCBG, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan, for not including enough black models. (BCBG Max Azria and Hervé Léger By Max Azria included several black models this week and Karan tapped famous faces Joan Smalls and Chanel Iman in her DKNY collection. Klein shows on Thursday.)
The missive didn’t go so far as to accuse anyone of bigotry, but did say, “No matter the intention, the result is racism.”
On Monday, Hardison went on ABC’s “Good Morning America” with black models Iman and Naomi Campbell to push for change.
“Nobody is calling any of these designers racist,” Iman said on the show. “The act itself is racism.”
None of the designers named answered our request for comment.
On Monday night, White, dressed in a sequined white dress, declined to speculate on why black models are hard to find on the runways or why only two black designers — Tracy Reese and B. Michael — are on Lincoln Center’s roster of almost 100 shows.
But she does say African-American fashionistas are influencing culture from the ground up.
“We’re creating trends, not just following them,” says White. “Right now there’s a hot trend called Ghetto Goth. Look at Rihanna. She’s doing it really well. It stems from the urban community.”
White hopes she’ll soon have a platform to discuss such topics on the BET network, where she’s in talks to host her own show.