Naomi Campbell Fights Racism in Fashion
Hannah Pool (Wednesday, August 22, 2007)
"Black models are being sidelined by major modelling agencies," Naomi Campbell told Kenyan journalists earlier this week. "It's a pity that people don't appreciate black beauty." Campbell, who also complained that she is rarely featured on the cover of British Vogue, is now thinking of opening her own modelling agency in Kenya in an attempt to redress the balance.
She is, of course, not saying anything new. "Racism in fashion industry" is about as surprising a headline as "Pete Doherty arrested". But while she has never been the most likable supermodel around, Campbell is to be congratulated for the fact that throughout her career she has never shied away from talking about the issue.
"There is prejudice. It is a problem and I can't go along any more with brushing it under the carpet," said Streatham's most famous export as far back as 1997. "This business is about selling, and blonde and blue-eyed girls are what sells." Saying this sort of stuff takes guts, no matter who you are; Campbell is not so much biting the hand that feeds as ripping it off at the wrist.
For the record, Campbell has appeared on a total of eight Vogue covers, which is approximately eight more than most of us, but notably less than Kate Moss (a whopping 24). Moss-mania aside, a more realistic comparison might be with Linda Evangelista or Gisele Bündchen (13 and 12 covers respectively) - and while, in Vogue cover terms, she is roughly in the same ball park, it is unlikely that Bündchen or Evangelista has ever been turned down for a job because the designer didn't want a white model.
Of course, Vogue is not the only barometer of the fashion industry's treatment of black women, and Campbell is not the only black model to have faced racism.
It may seem as though things have moved on considerably since the 70s when Iman, the first black supermodel, was pitched as an illiterate Somali goatherd (she was in fact a middle-class multilingual university student), but the fact is that you can still count the number of prominent black models on one hand. While publishers remain convinced that white women won't buy a magazine with a black woman on the cover, it is going to take more than a model with a reputation for having a bit of a temper to change their minds.
Originally appeared in Guardian.