Miss Petaluma On…


Now this has been a hard one for me to gather my thoughts on.  Ignore 500 years of enslavement, degradation and riducule of my race and the continued struggle for ethnic representation in fashion,particularly black models  and the 13 page shoot in this month’s French Vogue, featuring the pale skinned, blue eyed Danish model – Lara Stone – ‘blacked-up’ for fashion is actually alright.   Nevertheless , I can’t say i’m surprised, Paris Vogue has never been shy of controversy.  Well anything in the name of fashion and art darling, right?  Wrong, so terribly wrong.  The fashion industry always seems capable of getting away with racism and pretty much all the ‘isms’,  in the name of fashion.  It’s the one industry, infact,  that does so quite fearlessly.  You see what bothers me with this one is the need to black Lara Stone up at all.

What is it about black models, magazines like French Vogue find so difficult to swallow? I’m not saying they’ll never use one, i’d imagine there’s  a quota to fill.  But black models are more then likely cast for the edgier, exotic and sporty shoots, rather then anything, God forbid, ethereal or tres chic.   However, this being a model ‘legende’ issue, the apparent lack of any top black models in the entire magazine in addition to four pages of a minstrel-like Stone, is my biggest problem.   So they wanted a bright young slip of a model, well you’ve got a wealth of hot black models at all of the major agencies, as well as Jourdan Dunn and Chanel Iman – dynamo black duo of the moment – to choose from.  “It’s as if we’ve stepped back in time,” says Shevelle Rhule, fashion and beauty editor at black women’s magazine Pride.  How often have you sat back to enjoy a golden oldie film, only to spot a perma-tanned white American Indian or a blacked up afro-wearing mammy on the screen.  It beggars belief really, American Indians and black people existing then, who could have had those roles.  It’s also funny, this shoot was commisioned to show off Lara’s curves and healthy physique  – a size 4 is huge in comparison to size 0.  Did blacking her up show how she was curvy enough to be a black women? What with our big bums and thighs?

Granted the French may not be as aware of the loaded history of minstrels in the US and UK, hey I remember those re-runs of 70s variety shows on ITV.  But something about this concept should have sounded the alarm bells surely?  We all know France has got some serious race issues –  far right, race riots, zenophobia – so someone must have thought “Hang on! white girl, black paint – we’ve gone too far with this one”.  Don’t get me wrong, I can vaguely see what they were trying to do here and that’s why I had mixed feelings initially.  I assume they thought they were making a point about identity in this shoot, after all some of the shots feature her caked in white mud layered on top of the ‘black’ paint.   But why no black models at all?  Why not shoot a whited-up black  model and avoid this historically-charged argument? Racism still has relevance in the modern world and we cannot ignore the effects of the past and their roles in our current sense of self and society.

In this case it seems ignorance is not bliss.

Lara Stone models for French Vogue

Lara Stone models for French Vogue

One Response to “Miss Petaluma On…”

  1. Not wishing to court controversy, but there has always been a tradition of casting opposites in theatre in particular. Imagine a pantomime without a woman dressed as a man, and what would happen to Madame Jo Jo’s without homi palone’s ?

    I’m sure that even the French, without whom we wouldn’t have something wonderful to look at each season, let alone comment on are beyond racism in this case. I can’t comment on their feelings in general and this isn’t the post in which to discuss this.

    Fashion is fashion and that’s all it is. It comments on what is current and not current and had been the subject of caricature for Centuries.

    Vive la mode.

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