Yves St. Laurent, Givenchy and the Black Models of Today

YSL, Mounia and models at one of his previous shows

It is no secret that over the past few decades, women of color have been scarce on the fashion runways.

There was a time when beautiful women of all colors rocked the magazine covers, strutted down runways and became household names with superstar status.  In the 70’s, names such as Beverly Johnson, Alva Chin, Roshumba, Peggy Dillard, Naomi Simms, Pat Cleveland, Mounia, Veronica Webb, Iman and others were reminders of the success black fashion models had attained.  It was a time of being included from a “physical and visual perspective” which enhanced global recognition for women of color. 

Kara Young made the cover of Vogue in the 90's

These great ladies also served as the inspiration for a new (albeit smaller class) of black models in the 90’s such as Naomi Campbell, Chrystele,Waris Dirie,  Tyra, Lana Ogilvie, Gail O’neil, Anna Getaneh, Claudia Mason, Alek and others waiting in the wings.

So what happened??  Why are the runways  and cover pages today void of beautiful women of color?  We were accepted in the 70’s, 80’s and early nineties.   Were we a trend? Black shoppers spend $20 billion on apparel each year- despite not seeing ourselves represented on runways and print ads.  The urban purchasing power isn’t a trend or insignificant.

Issues like this remind me of my days in school reading WWD and seeing Mounia grace the cover of WWD for YSL , Givenchy and Christian Lacroix back in the late 70’s  and 80’s.  It was exciting to see “representation” on major fashion magazines and news papers.  It gave credence to the credo that mainstream success is attainable, and it encouraged the urban community and aspiring black models and fashion designers to press forward.   

Mounia and Christian Lacroix prepare for a show

Many of these models have gone on to become CEOs of their own companies, artists with work displayed in galleries, talk show hosts and/or accessory and clothing designers. This demonstrates how these opportunites made a positive impact on their own lives and society as a whole.

I have always appreciated Yves St. Laurent, Givenchy and Christian Lacroix for hiring and promoting black models.  Givenchy discovered Mounia who was an aspiring airline hostess, but it was Yves St. Laurent who showcased Mounia in his runway collections and she became his muse for 15 years from 1985!!  Givenchy and Christian Lacroix also hired Mounia for their collections.  She was a hit and soon after black models were all the rage.

Alva Chin, Stephen Burrows, Pat Cleveland and Ms. Hardsion at the 2005 CFDA awards ceremony-still looking great

Alva Chin, Beverly Peels, Kimora Lee Simmons, Karen Alexander, Kara Young, Khadija Adams, and others became household names.  Naomi Campbell credits YSL for helping her get on the cover of Vogue.  YSL is heralded by many for being first to embracethe black model.

Some may remember that Veronica Webb was the first woman of color representing Revlon!  It was exciting to see her in print and on TV commercials.




Veronica Webb: first model of color to represent Revlon in print ads and TV commercials

The campaign for awareness on the lack of hiring black models is championed by the likes of Iman, Ms. Hardison, Naomi Campbell, Veroncia Webb and Tyra who keep the concern alive and rightly so.  There is no shortage of black models so what exactly are the hiring requirements and practices of modeling agencies?  When black models are rejected what are they told?  Who makes the final hiring decision, the modeling agency or the design house?  Do design houses envision the broad consumer base when creating a collection and consider the runway show?

Concerns like these mean we’ve stepped backward in time.  Like the 50’s when Dorothy Towles was the only famous black model in Europe and the U.S., or Donyale Luna for the 60’s.  Fashion  is supposed to reflect the times, and we have our first African-American family in the White House!

It’s not wise for black fashion models to be ignored; this is out of step with today’s history and the future.  


Emanuela de Paula-today's fresh face model of color

Let’s see more of fresh faces Emanuela de Paula, Yasmin, Oluchi, Chanel Iman, Noemie, Liya Kebde and others. This should be the beginning of a new permanent inclusion for future models (notice I did not say “cycle” or “phase”).

I see no reason not to hire black models.   Neither did Yves St. Laurent , Givenchy and Christian Lacroix and other legendary designers. 

Do you???


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