Naomi Campbell is right - white is still the fashion industry's favourite colour

You can tell a lot about a society from the way it selects its most beautiful women


Racial diversity at catwalk shows, like the projectile potential of mobile phones, is a topic on which Naomi Campbell is uniquely well-placed to speak. She has spent nearly 30 years as one of the industry’s few brown faces and unless casting agents and designers buck up their ideas, this situation is unlikely to change. “We’re not calling them racist, we are saying the act [of not choosing models of colour] is racist,” she told Channel 4 News on Monday. “When I started modelling, there was a great balance of models and colour.”

If your interest in fashion begins and ends in the casual shirts section of Marks & Spencer, you may struggle to see how such London Fashion Week goings-on are relevant. In fact, this is an issue with implications far beyond the front row. You can tell a lot about a society from the way it selects its most beautiful women.

Take Nina Davuluri. The new Miss America has the same toothy smile as her fellow beauty pageant contestants, the same slim figure and, seeing as she was born in New York state, the same American passport. Yet when Indian-American Davuluri was crowned an ideal of feminine beauty earlier this week, she ceased to be just another pretty girl and became – in some people’s minds at least – a threat to both national identity and national security. One aghast Twitter user wrote, “9/11 was 4 days ago and she gets Miss America?” Another asked “WHEN WILL A WHITE WOMAN WIN #MISSAMERICA? Ever??!!!” The answer to this, incidentally, is almost every year of the competition’s 92-year history, apart from the eight times an African-American women has won since 1980 and Davuluri’s own win, this year. For the first 35 years, all non-white women were barred from entry.

A few twits with zero understanding of geography, history or spelling don’t represent mainstream views, but their shock does illustrate how rare it is for a brown face to be cast as a mainstream beauty ideal. Nor is it true, as is sometimes suggested, that failing to include black and Asian models merely reflects the demographics of the market. At New York Fashion Week around 83 per cent of the models were white. This compares to a US population that is about 64 per cent white, and New York City population that is about 45 per cent white.

Of course, fashion people aren’t in the business of representing the world as it really is, they are in the business of creating a fantasy version of the consumer as he or she would like to be. This lofty goal is sometimes used as a sort of Get Out of PC Jail Free card, excusing the industry from its social responsibilities. It doesn’t. The fantasies that the fashion industry creates are not just fantasies, but the basis for a widely disseminated, brutally effective beauty ideal, so their responsibility only weighs heavier. Living up to this responsibility will mean change, but so what? It doesn’t say much for this supposedly cutting-edge creative industry if that’s an ask too far. 

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own