As promised, former model and current activist Bethann Hardison (right) sent letters to the major councils of fashion designers in New York, London, Paris, and Milan yesterday.
These were not friendly notes — she listed every fashion designer who had committed the "racist act" of using one or no models of color in their fall 2013 shows (which, for those unfamiliar with Fashion Week, happened in February). The letters are making a particular splash as they come in the midst of Spring 2014 New York Fashion Week. Hardison wrote, "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."
So far, the councils are claiming model diversity isn't their problem — it's the individual designers'. The British Council of Fashion responded to the letter through British Vogue's Ella Alexander. A spokesperson for the BFC told Alexander Friday morning:
The British Fashion Council does not organise model castings for London Fashion Week although, as its governing body, strongly asserts that all participating designers should recognise that London is one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world and should consider reflecting this demographic at their shows and presentations. The BFC is committed to model welfare and is more than happy to engage in tackling any issues regarding best practice and diversity at London Fashion Week.
Steven Kolb, CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, said that he and CFDA President Dianne von Furstenberg discussed the letter in a phone call on Thursday. He told Women's Wear Daily he sent two emails in the past two weeks to CFDA members and fashion "influencers" encouraging diversity — “If the coalition, Bethann or whoever feels the message needs to be stronger, then we are happy to meet and to be part of that discussion.”
Diane von Furstenberg did include more than one model of color in her fall 2013 show. You can see the full list of New York designers who didn't here, and it's pretty damning — big names like Alexander Wang, Oscar de la Renta, and Calvin Klein are among the fifty womenswear designers listed.
Interestingly, Hardison didn't count Asian models in her calculations. She wrote, "eyes are on an industry that season after season watches fashion design houses consistently use of one or no models of color. No matter the intention, the result is racism . . . It can no longer be accepted, nor confused by the use of the Asian model." Basically, Hardison is alleging that designers are specifically racist against black models.
Supermodels Naomi Campbell and Iman (right) have expressed their support Hardison's activism. Iman told The New York Times in August, "we have a president and a first lady who are black. You would think things have changed, and then you realize that they have not. In fact, things have gone backward.” Iman agrees with Hardison that designers have to be accountable for telling models at castings, "we already have our black girl."
Hardison told WWD Friday, “The point of this letter is that everyone should be discussing this — I mean everyone. It’s like the MTA. If you see something, say something. Well, I’m saying something.”