Saturday, 23 March 2013

Asian Models Are Less Sexy: 5 Top Casting Directors Explain Why Runways Are So White.

This article talks to five casting directors who explain why the runways of New York, Paris, London and Milan, are so white. 

Some of the statements made in this article (particularly by James Scully who is casting director of Tom Ford, Jason Wu and other fashion brands) made some good and insightful comments:
  • The more diverse, the better.
  • A beautiful girl is a beautiful girl.
  • A mix of diversity makes the show and clothes more interesting.
  • Tokenism does exist on the runways. They do it not to get into trouble, they don't do it because they believe black women should be on the runway.
  • You should just book them [models] because they're beautiful.
  • A great model is a great model, and no matter who she is, she can take on any role. 
  • I have millions of friends from all over the world, and if they don't see themselves in the product, they don't buy it.
Standing ovation for you James Scully. This is so incredibly true, especially the last point; why are we going to buy something that is promoted by someone who doesn't look like us? 

I suppose this statement can be inverted and then be used as an argument for using only or mostly Caucasian models on the runway. The difference is though, Caucasians are not underrepresented in the fashion industry, they're overrepresented, so it really wouldn't hurt to have a few WOC in a show. 

What Jennifer Starr, Casting Director of Ralph Lauren and Gap has had to say:

  • We have a black president. The richest woman in entertainment is black. The entertainment industry is largely black. It just doesn't make sense that runways don't follow.
  • Some designers are not paying attention to being inclusive and just cast woman they love, which they really cannot be criticized for. 
  • Rationally, you would think that if there is a demand, agencies would have to increase the supply. Logically, I would deduce that there is not a big enough demand for black women on the runway. 
Thumbs up to point number one; it makes sense for runways to follow.

I 50/50 agree with the second point. Designers cannot be faulted for choosing a woman they love. But why is it that many fashions hows have women who don't really look 'striking'? I'll be 100% and just say that a lot of them look mediocre. Do designers really love them? Or do the designers just love them because of their Eurocentric features? 

I disagree with the third point. The third point justifies designers' use of blacked up Caucasian models in shoots that can be used for black women (see African Queen shoot). If there is no demand for black women, why are so many elements of African culture being used in fashion right now? You know, African prints, big afros, African inspired clothing and accessories? Are we not allowed to promote that ourselves?

More about that last point... it appears that the lack of black models at agencies occurs because agencies probably have a quota for black models (because they're supposedly not in demand)... which in turn gives us less black models at agencies and therefore less black models on the runway.

What John Pfeiffer Casting Director for Donna Karan and Michael Kors has had to say:
  • When you see one black girl and one Asian girl in a show casting, obviously there's tokenism.
  • Right now, Asian models are very trendy. Maybe that's all attributed to the amount of money being spent in Asia.
  •  People want to identify with their own people.
  • Diversity is extremely important. You have to make an effort to have diversity in your casting.
  • Turning a blind eye to this issue is unproductive and dangerous. We need to take action. 
Agreed entirely with these points. We do need to take action.

What Barbara Nicoli and Leila Ananna, casting directors of Burberry, Gucci and Saint Laurent has had to say:
  • Sometimes what I disagree with is putting a black girl [in a show] just because you need diversity.
  • But when you do a casting, [you see a lot fewer black and Asian models than white models]
  • It's also true that, for example, Caucasians have a specific body type, black girls have a specific body shape, and Asian girls have a specific body shape. So I guess there are some collections where it's more perfect for an Asian body shape because they are more flat and less sexy, in a way. Asians, they are not curvy, so to put an Asian [who's] very flat [with a] baby body shape in a show where normally the designer knows they love sexy, beautiful, curvy girls, it's a bit of nonsense. 
  • Regarding the representation of various faces [on runways], we think fashion shows have already shown it. Don't you? There are plenty of different faces in a show.
  • We think we need to keep in mind that these are shows. A show needs to make you dream, and it doesn't necessarily need to represent reality.

Oh, so now we're going into the whole science of model selection... 

I suppose the differences between black, white and Asian models would be true if the models weren't size zero. Let's be real, size zero or near skinny models no matter what race, all have pretty much the same body type so I don't buy into that excuse. Asian, white and black girls body types aren't exclusive to a particular race either; they can be found in almost all races but obviously the proportion would differ.

Furthermore (pertaining to the very last point, which I sort of concur with...), the fashion world is an 'unrealistic world'; the looks of the models, the body types etc. The fashion world isn't a mirror that reflects society. Real girls are underrepresented in the fashion world and only over the past few years have they attempted to change that due to the backlash the industry has received for using mostly size zero models.

The third point really stood out to me. It's clear that Barbara (the person who said it) was playing into racial stereotypes about Asian women, which was offensive to me. That statement is also very telling; Caucasian models are just the standard for any fashion show or job it.

The clientele and market for many of these labels are Caucasians in North America and Europe (which is understandable because they do make up the majority). That doesn't mean though, that black and Asian women should remain underrepresented; there are many of us who live in these societies and we buy and like the same things that Caucasian girls do.

So we may be seeing more Asian models and more black models than we have done before, but it seems that the industry has a very difficult time changing their attitude. For that reason, I think we need to keep on pushing to get our models out there, while also focusing on supporting our black designers and our black fashion shows.