Alarmed by the lack of ethnic models on the catwalk, Vogue Italia will feature black models almost exclusively in the July issue of what's often called the most influential fashion magazine in the world.
“This idea came about as a reaction to the models of today,” Franca Sozzani, Vogue Italia's editor, said. “I go to a fashion show and every girl is blond and blue-eyed, and they all walk the same and look the same.
“I thought we needed to break away from this type of thing,” she said. “There are so many beautiful black women not being used.”
Sozzani said the time also seemed right for an all-black issue now that Barack Obama will soon become the first black nominee for president of the United States.
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The July issue will feature a wide range of women of all ages and will include actors, models, and singers such as Naomi Campbell, Tina Turner, Jody Watley and Iman.
Sozzani said that some editors might argue that black faces don't sell at the newsstand.
“But we sell the same amount if we have Naomi Campbell on the cover,” she said.
The lack of ethnic models in magazines and on catwalks has long sparked international criticism.
After hundreds of white models strutted their stuff at London Fashion Week earlier this year – and only a few blacks were included in the show – the British press asked whether racism is stalking the catwalk.
British designer Vivienne Westwood went so far as to demand a quota system so that fashion magazines would be forced to use more black models.
David Wolfe, creative director at Doneger Group, a New York fashion industry consultant, said there is a very small indication that more Asian models are being used in fashion shows but that black models are still rare.
One of Britain's leading model agents, Carole White, co-founder of Premier Model Management, has spoken out repeatedly against color prejudices in the fashion industry.
She said it's much harder finding work for black models than for white ones.
White said it was a different story in the 1980s, when black faces were all the rage and teenager Naomi Campbell was making a splash.
She said that one reason for the decline in the use of black models may be the collapse of former Eastern-bloc countries, which led to a “waif” look fueled by an influx of white, bland, very skinny girls.
She said another problem is that photographers still don't always know how to correctly light the skin of black models.
White called Vogue Italia's move “fantastic.”
She said the magazine is “making the changes happen that are so necessary.”