The (Harsh) Reality of the Runway


Ignoring Diversity, Runways Fade to White
By GUY TREBAY
Published: October 14, 2007
The New York Times

IN the days of blithe racial assumptions, flesh crayons were the color of white people. “Invisible” makeup and nude pantyhose were colored in the hues of Caucasian skin. The decision by manufacturers to ignore whole segments of humanity went unchallenged for decades before the civil rights movement came along and nonwhite consumers started demanding their place on the color wheel.

Nowadays the cultural landscape is well populated with actors, musicians, media moguls and candidates for the American presidency drawn from the 30 percent of the American population that is not white. Yet, if there is one area where the lessons of chromatic and racial diversity have gone largely unheeded, it is fashion. This reality was never plainer than during the recent showings of the women’s spring 2008 collections in New York and Europe.

Although black women in the United States spend more than $20 billion on apparel each year, according to estimates by TargetMarketNews.com, it was hard to discern an awareness of this fact on the part of designers showing in New York, where black faces were more absent from runways than they have been in years.

The exclusion is rarely subtle. An agent for the modeling firm Marilyn once told Time magazine of receiving requests from fashion clients that baldly specified “Caucasians only.”


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