At New York Fashion Week, designers tried to convince us that bondage is in, neon shag body wear is trendy, and unwearable structural pieces are totally hot right now. But at least they didn’t send models down the runway in blackface. Think no one would be ignorant enough to paint a white girl black for an “African Queen” photo shoot? Well think again. French magazine Número is embroiled in a public relations shit show this week after using copious amounts of bronzer to render white model Ondria Hardin “African”. While blackface carries its own racist connotations, the spread is doubly offensive as a reflection of the whitewashed fashion industry. According to The Daily Beast, 82% of the female models at this year’s New York Fashion Week were white. Since it’s already so hard for minorities be successful in the modeling industry, the fact that Número hired a white woman in lieu of a black woman really adds insult to injury. In the words of one sarcastic Tumblr commenter, “Why hire a black model when you can just paint a white one?”
On Wednesday, Número responded to the backlash and apologized to anyone who might have been offended by the spread. However, they did not seem to regret the published images, and hailed the shoot as an example of their dedication to artistic freedom and expression. According to the statement, which was published by The Huffington Post, “Numéro has always supported the artistic freedom of the talented photographers who work with the magazine to illustrate its pages, and has not took part in the creation process of this editorial.” Meanwhile Sebastian Kim, the photographer behind the offensive images, has a different take on the incident. Yesterday he issued his own statement, claiming, “It was never my intention (nor Número’s) to portray a black woman in this story…We wanted a tanned and golden skin to be showcased as part of the beauty aesthetic of this shoot.” Kim believes that much of the controversy stems from the title of the photo shoot, “African Queen,” and he insists that he was not aware of this title prior to publication. While the public backlash to these photographs should discourage fashion blackface in the future, the lack of diversity in the fashion industry unfortunately doesn’t have such an easy fix.
Images Via Styleite, The Gloss, and The Huffington Post