Racism & Cultural Appropriation in the Modeling Industry

The Forbidden Fruit | Imani Lee | November 5, 2015

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We all know of the Kardashian/Jenner clan in some way or another. If you’re familiar with Kylie/Kendall Jenner, you may know they both model. Kendall Jenner is now a “high-fashion” model, soon to be walking in the nextVictoria’s Secret runway show (just announced recently). But, how did she earn this claim to modeling fame? She didn’t, of course.

The industry headlines are filled with mini-celebrities such as Kendall Jenner, Kylie Jenner and Gigi Hadid, who are known for other things besides their modeling ability. Kendall and Kylie are (obviously) famous for their reality show, while Gigi Hadid has had publicity for dating popular celebrity men such as Joe Jonas and, currently, The Weeknd. While we have models like African-American Jourdan Dunn, who models right beside them in shoots like Balmain, who isn’t getting as much credit or as many bookings. Jourdan Dunn will not even be walking in the new Victoria’s Secret show (since a deleted tweet hours ago via her personal Twitter). Kendall has replaced her.


The blatant white-washing of runways has been more and more apparent in avant-garde and high fashion shows. Anais Mali, a black model from France, has shared her story about racism in the industry stating:

“I feel like the industry is trying to focus more on diversity, but there’s still a long way to go. In Milan, you don’t really see black girls on the runway — it’s sad,” Anais said. “You hear things like, ‘We already have Jourdan [Dunn], one black girl is enough.’ I’m getting good work, I’m happy, but I want to see more black girls.”

Recently, we’ve been seeing blatantly African-themed runway shows with no black models .. Such confusion. The one that trended the most on Twitter was Valentino’s ‘Africa’ themed show at Paris Fashion Week this year. Their show was centered around “tribal” necklaces, cornrows and Kikuyu textiles. The runway music also included bongo drums. And, guess what? Of the 87 models used, only 8 of them were black. Go figure. Metro News shares:

The brand has been accused of cultural appropriation on a massive scale. Their runway show for Paris Fashion week was inspired by Africa (yep, the entire continent), taking an ‘analogical approach to modern day African grace.’ 

And just the year before was Junya Watanabe’s African-themed runway show of Spring 2016 at the Museum of Immigration. It included all white men dawned in dreadlocks, cornrows, spears, African textiles, necklaces covered in bones and Masai collars. And, guess what? The show included ZERO black models. The Twitter community named this collection “The Rachel Dolezal Collection” making “who wore it better” comparisons between the white models in dreadlocks compared to Rachel Dolezal in her distasteful twists. And what’s even worse is the fact that fashion critics seemed to actually enjoy this collection, claiming it to be “transporting” and “exotic”.

@WANNAJEAN tweets:

“I’m so over the fashion industry capitalizing off black culture/aesthetic without acknowledging the origin and paying dues. How does one have a runway show, showcasing African textiles and silhouettes without including anyone of African descent?”

You can check out the photos from both the shows here: Junya Watanabe & Valentino

At the end of the day: black culture is popular, but black people are not.