Teen Vogue ran a story today on black models diversity backstage that really hit some great points. AJ Crimson was even mentioned on some comments that he said on the touching subject. We thank Jessica C. Andrews for really going in on the story and bringing up a side of the business that isn’t mentioned.
Diversity on the runway is just the beginning.
Much discussion is devoted to diversity on the runway. We implore designers to be more inclusive, then track their progress with statistical reports. But little is said about the challenges black models face once they make it past the casting stage. When a model of color arrives backstage for a fashion week presentation, she must contend with artists who are unequipped to work with her hair texture and complexion. The experience serves to reinforce her otherness. It sends the message that black models don’t matter — at least not enough for artists to style them adequately.
It’s an unfortunate reality that most black models face in silence. Occasionally, some express their frustrations in posts that read like an indictment of the fashion industry. Five years ago, Jourdan Dunn tweeted “I swear some people need to learn how to do black hair/skin.” Her tweet was followed by similar social media posts from model Nykhor Paul last July and Leomie Anderson earlier this month. With each of their impassioned pleas, they’re
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calling for artists to put more of an effort into learning how to style black models. Why isn’t the industry listening?
Ursula Stephen, who works with Rihanna and Taraji P. Henson, says black models are often at a loss when it comes to backstage styling. “[This type of discrimination] is very common, and it happens in the editorial world as well,” says Ursula, who owns her own salon in Brooklyn. “I usually have to style all the African-American models when working backstage because the other stylists don’t know how to handle the hair, or the model is afraid from past experiences so they want me to do their hair.”
Celebrity hairstylist Seto McCoy recounts having to console a model “nearly in tears” backstage at fashion week while an inadequate artist worked on her hair. “She was upset because it was her first show, and her hair looked nothing like the inspiration photo,” he recalled. “I asked if I could step in, and the hairstylist who was working with her seemed relieved. After styling that model, I was scouted by another black model who was originally prepped by a totally different artist. She wanted me to fix her look. There were several hairstylists there, and I was the only one capable of doing all types of hair.”
Most artists won’t bother learning how to style models of color because “there’s no demand to,” says model Lillian Lightbourn. The Bermudian beauty, who walked in shows like Vivienne Westwood and Julien MacDonald this season, says “Creatives will only be as diverse and experienced as their clients demand them to be. When designers hire more models with different skin tones and hair textures,” stylists will change their ways.
Celebrity makeup artist A.J. Crimson echoes her sentiments. “Some creatives take the tone of ‘I never really work with black girls so why buy that makeup for my kit?’ Or I hear ‘Why even make the investment? The [non-white] subject knows she requires special needs so she should bring product with her.” A.J. makes a point to hire artists who can work with models of all races. “Under Pat McGrath, I worked with diverse teams with a sense of versatility and technique,” he recalled. “When I lead teams, you can’t join if you don’t know all skin types and know them well. It personally upsets me when I see one black girl in a fashion show and her hair and makeup is less than amazing but no one cared to fix it. How is she to walk with confidence?”
Makeup artists often place blame on cosmetic companies. If brands don’t carry diverse foundation options, artists won’t have the tools to cater to models of color. It’s no excuse, A.J. notes, but it is an enduring problem. “Most companies just don’t sell products that truly work for rich complexions.” The lack of options for women of color is one of the reasons he created a foundation line that serves deeper skin tones, AJ Crimson Beauty. “[Women of color] are simply not valued as a priority. Large prestige brands aren’t looking to have a direct conversation with non-white audiences. Their thinking goes: as long as the masses are covered, they’ve done their job.”
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Story for Teen Vogue by Jessica C. Andrews