Italian Vogue | Steven Meisel | Black Models Issue

Trendmeisters rarely search American streets for signals of change. We go to Europe, Asia … almost anywhere but here, in search of change. Why? Because America is about big ideas, the next big thing. We don’t spend much time nurturing small ideas. And our biggest question is, of course, what’s the bottom line.

I’ve been in more than one conversation over the years about using black models in marketing campaigns. Decades after that first conversation, the belief continues that using Black models “just doesn’t sell.”

In my years at Victoria’s Secret I took an early and aggressive position on using Black models, although marketing was not my primary role as Fashion Director.  I argued aggressively for our introduction of Naomi Campbell to our supermodel lineup. And we all know that Tyra Banks came to represent the Victoria’s Secret brand as a wonderful face of the brand. 

Italian Vogue’ editor Franca Sozzani, not American Vogue editor Anna Wintour, responds to Barack Obama’s success in the U.S. presidential primaries, as well as an activist group protesting racism in the American fashion industry, with an all Black model July issue.

More than 100 pages of the issue, including the cover, will feature images of black women, taken by the acclaimed New York based photographer Steven Meisel. Cathy Horn writes for the New York Times:

Having worked at one time with nearly all the models he chose for the black issue — Iman, Ms. Campbell, Tyra Banks, Jourdan Dunn, Ms. Kebede, Ms. Wek, Pat Cleveland, Karen Alexander — Mr. Meisel had his own feelings. “I thought, it’s ridiculous, this discrimination,” said Mr. Meisel, speaking by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “It’s so crazy to live in such a narrow, narrow place. Age, weight, sexuality, race — every kind of prejudice.”

He began casting in March. “I love the history of fashion, obviously, and I love old, and I tried to get as many of the older girls as I could,” he said. Over Ms. Sozzani’s initial objections, he also hired Toccara Jones, a full-figure model, who became known from “America’s Next Top Model.” “I wanted to say something about weight, and I’m never allowed to do that,” he said. “I met Toccara and thought, she’s beautiful. What’s the deal with her? She’s great and she’s sexy.”

ill electing a Black president change advertising clients’ convictions that using Black models has a negative impact on the bottom line? Who knows. It only fascinates me that, as always, it’s the Europeans — not the Americans — who are best at interpreting change and evolution, in both design and lifestyle … even when the change is coming here, in our own country.