I was at the corner of Franklin and Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn when an unfamiliar number bloomed on my cell phone. I took the call because...you know..its that time of year and you never know. It was Bethann Hardison, architect of last season's seminar on the issue of the lack of black models on the runways and in the mags. We were meant to catch up at year's end, but I had just not been in NY that much. I was glad we were talking because the "black models issue" was something I had meant to address back in late October, before a thousand distractions flooded my mind. Bethann wanted to let me know she was planning a second seminar. She also wanted to pick my brain to help point her to an ideal new girl that People magazine could follow around on her journey through the NY castings. The girl would keep a diary of her experiences, and the body of that diary would become the magazine article. Also she wanted to arrange a dinner with herself, myself and a bevvy of "gorgeous black beauties". And finally she wanted to collect whatever hiss I may have heard about the possibility of diversity on the FW 08 runways. I told her what I knew. Chanel Iman's Ralph Lauren Collection ads were running. Ports had employed Joan at Elite as their face this season and a lot more magazines, including US Vogue had been calling in the books of - as they say - "models of color". Versace I told her had asked the agencies to send over the cards of all their new black girls. "Oh good," noted Bethann, "I heard that Prada's been asking too and that would be something, right ? ." Well that gave me cause for pause at the corner of Franklin and Eastern Parkway, a corner where I have seen many a pair of Prada Sport boots on many a hip-hop boy. Oddly enough, during the course of the day, through several agencies- without my prompting - the same speculation came up that Prada was requesting the cards of black models. "Wow," I had joked to my friend, Fabien. "Fashion finds its conscience."
But that is exactly what troubled me a little. I don't want there to be more models of color on the runway as a matter of conscience. I only want them to be there as a matter of economics and nothing else. It is fabulous and fantastic, in my mind for it to be an issue of demographics, market share and sales figures because all these things are important to fashion. I can suspend the moral and the aesthetics of the issue. I do believe taste is a dictatorship in the same way that I believe Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons at Jil Sander and Francisco Costa at Calvin Klein Women owe me nothing.
To make the issue more personal in terms of gender, beyond Armando/Public Image Worldwide, there are no black male models in heavy rotation on the runways. This doesn't devastate me because I knew as a devoted consumer of fashion I don't have to buy any product that does not reflect my presence in its imaging. But if something of myself showed on the scene? S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G. That's human nature no? Ralph Lauren Polo? Sold , ever since Tyson and Naomi. Marc Jacobs. Live for, if only for the year of the infamous Sonja Wanda, or the early booking on that little swan, Chanel Iman. Tom Ford's Gucci? Remember the campaign with Kiara and Jane Bradbury in black and white on what looked like a night beach. Almost bought the thong.
I remember aching to buy Dior Homme from the very first collection but in my stubborn solipsism refusing to step into the store because I did not see my shadow on Hedi's catwalk. My silhouette yes, my taste for a minimal and graphic line, yes but not the shadow. I didn't hate Hedi for this. I left him and his very good taste to its own devices, peculiarities and whims.
Oddly enough in his very last show he cast the gorgeous Morten Olsen . My credit cards were set free and I bathed that season in head to toe Dior, from coats to suits to kicks, ties, brogues, wallet, sweaters, scarf, fragrance, watch, underwear AND candles. I know this makes me a philistine . I wish I were more sophisticated, or perhaps, less narcissistic, but one boy was enough. I think only buying your reflection is the chicest way to protest a lack of diversity or modernity or openmindedness.
Bethann Hardison and I therefore differ significantly on that question of inclusiveness. If someone forms a country club and tells me I can't join, then I'll cross the street and start construction on my own enclave, not picket the offender. That is the point of view I'll express to Bethann should she still care to have dinner with me or invite me to the seminar. I hope my honest point of view might find respect but I'm sure it'll get me in trouble with some. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Ms Hardison, and I suspect we think differently on this because we are of a different generation. I don't think that everybody should respond to moral issues in one way. She remembers the glamorous activism of the late's 60's and early 70's, the era that saw her rise to prominence as a model. I sadly come out of the very cynical post-hip-hop revolution where money is what changes perceptions. I know that money inevitably is colorless because I've seen Pharell and Mr Diddy and Kanye buy their way into the status quo of LV , Hermes and come to think of it Dior Homme (Kanye has done interviews describing himself as a lost man since Hedi left).
I love fashion and I beautiful things but I stopped looking a long time ago at fashion magazines and runways for self-validation. I think it would be brilliant and sensitive and smart for more designers of Miuccia Prada and Dontatella Versace's ilk to open up their cabines to a variety of ethncities, in the way Prada has included Hye Park in the past and Versace had drafted the likes of Naomi and Kiara. But I wouldn't walk away from those shows feeling like...finally...validation...acceptance...proof that black girls are chic and sleek and complex "intellectual beauties" too. I already know this to be true, via the world that lives in my head, via the perceptions sculpted in my mind from seeing my mom and my aunts throughout the years, from my girlfriends in high school, from looking at my club running mates in my 20's dress themselves with individuality and brilliance. I've seen brilliantly styled young West Indian girls at the corner of Franklin and Eastern Parkway, dashing down the subway steps in purple stockings and white pumps with an artfully belted khaki trenchcoat . Pretty "directional", and very "awkward chic" right? I remembered thinking, "If only I had a camera!".