Michelle Obama’s image is under incredible scrutiny as the first African-American First Lady in history. She’s not just representing American women but also reflects the dignity and grace of an entire African diaspora. It’s a lot to carry on one woman’s shoulders. As rikyrah posted earlier based on JJP reader tips, some American fashion designers have become harshly critical of her choice of designers, especially since her fashion choices translate into sales for certain labels and designers as women try to cop Michelle’s style. 

It’s easy to say it’s none of their business. But the fact is that the fashion, textile and garment industry reaps billions worldwide — and like many sectors, they’re feeling the economic pinch hard. People of color have been excluded and blocked from access in this industry as in so many others due to discrimination. This is seen visibly in the choice of models used by designers to showcase their latest designs. A talented black model has a great post on DailyKos gaining steam that breaks it down. Here’s a slice from dmitcha‘s DKos diary including which designers are the worst racists:

The coolest thing about being African-American and bilingual Italian is that when you go to a model casting in Milan and are pointed to the sign that reads “no ragazze di colore” (no colored girls), you can: a) understand it; and b) get sent right back to the casting as a Brazilian and instructed by your agent not to speak English to anyone.

Today, in an article titled “Dressing Michelle: Major Designers Wait for First Lady’s Call,” Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) posted the outrage of American designers like Oscar de la Renta, who stated, “I don’t object to the fact that Mrs. Obama is wearing J. Crew to whatever because the diversity of America is what makes this country great. But there are a lot of great designers out there. I think it’s wrong to go in one direction only.”

Um. EXACTLY.  So where is that sentiment decade after decade as U.S. designers send all-white models down their runways?  I don’t know whether to shake with laughter or with disbelief!In Feb 2009, New York’s Fashion Week featured 116 labels and 3,697 runway spots.  668 of those spots – 18% – went to models of color.  Not 668 models, mind you, because three of the top ethnic girls took up half of those spots with repeat appearances).  That’s right, 18% women of color – ANY COLOR – on the runways and 82% white models.  In New York City.  So the real question should be “Donna, Ralph and Calvin, where in the world are your ethnic models?”  And the answer is…

Calvin Klein: showed 1 look with an ethnic model out of 35 he sent down his runway.

Donna Karan: showed 3 looks with ethnic models out of 45 she sent down her runway.

Ralph Lauren: Nearly 50% of his looks were worn by Black, Latina and Asian models.  That explains why WWD’s Photoshopped look of Mrs. Obama wearing a Feb 2009 U.S. runway design was from Ralph Lauren’s show – where they could actually find someone with brown arms and legs.  (As for the above quote from Oscar de la Renta, comme d’habitude, his runway diversity was nearly 50%).

Understand that Feb 2009 marks a 50% increase over the year before, due to the concerted efforts of model-turned-agent Bethanne Hardison and designer Dianne von Furstenberg to diversify U.S. runways.  As stunning examples, in 2008, Donna Karan cast 1 ethnic model out of 23Calvin Klein cast 1 out of 21, and Jill Stuart had NONE (Paris’s entire 2008 Fashion Week – 40 designers – also had NONE – but they’re not demanding that the President’s wife wear their clothes). Two years earlier in 2007, 1/3 of the U.S. runways (101 shows) had no models of color whatsoever.  We know that because WWD reported it…so how can they now champion the cause of the same designers to be represented by our African-American First Lady?

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