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The series — called “Tyra Banks Presents: 15,” photographed by Udo Spreitzenbarth and styled by Ty-Ron Mayes — opened in New York Monday. But it’s already caused a bit of a race-based dustup online, where some critics have taken the model to task for choosing only three women of color and for going, as MSN calls it, “faux Caucasian.” (Some have even gone so far as to call it “whiteface,” which Jezebel has wisely pointed out, “as an offense to white people is not a thing … In a society that constantly affirms white privilege and power … the power dynamics are not the same.”)
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Still, it’s sparked a conversation about race and modeling. And the timing on that is perfect, as this is New York Fashion Week, and racial diversity is a major of-the-moment issue in the industry.
On Monday, model icons Naomi Campbell and Iman joined model-turned-advocate Bethann Hardison by speaking out as part of their Diversity Coalition. Appearing on ABC News, they blasted designers including Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, and Armani for using “one or no models of color” in the fall shows, which featured dozens of models, calling it a “racist act.”
“The statistics, it’s really shocking,” Campbell continued. “Heartbreaking. Your body and beauty, it doesn’t matter what color you are. If you’ve got the right talent, you should be there having the opportunity to do the job.”
“You know, this is not the business of shaming,” Iman agreed. “And as we go back again to clarify it, nobody is calling any of these designers racist. The act itself is racism.”
Last week, Hardison posted the same message on her website, Balance Diversity. “Not accepting another based on the color of their skin is clearly beyond ‘aesthetic’ when it is consistent with the designer’s brand,” she wrote in part. “Whether it’s the decision of the designer, stylist or casting director, that decision to use basically all white models reveals a trait that is unbecoming to modern society. It can no longer be accepted, nor confused by the use of the Asian model.”
She sent the same statement to the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the British Fashion Council, the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana in Milan and the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers and Créateurs de Mode in Paris. So far, it’s garnered only one response, from the British Fashion Council, through a spokesperson.
“While the British Fashion Council does not organize model castings for London Fashion Week, as its governing body, we assert that all participating designers should recognize that London is one of the most multicultural cities in the world and should consider reflecting this demographic at their shows and presentations,” it read.
As for the Banks exhibition, a press release calls it a “series of un-retouched black and white photographs” in which she’s transformed into “colleagues, competitors and friends" through makeup and styling and "no digital manipulation to the imagery." The series, it explains, “takes the notion of ‘black and white’ beyond the portrayed models’ varying ethnicity.”
So Banks is clearly making a statement. She tweeted: "I've put my own spin on NYFW w/ a photo tribute to some of the fiercest SuperModels ever. Unretouched. Real. Raw."
But is her statement that she likes white models best — or that the industry does? Or is it simply showing the world how truly versatile she is?
Either way, the series reads like a tribute, not a takedown, with Banks emulating the icons with gorgeousness and grace, and making a very smart and vital point about race as she goes. Hopefully, the criticisms won’t get too ugly.
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