Don't let "America's Next Top Model" fool you—the politics of the runway are rarely so neatly wrapped up.
Sure, four of the show's nine winners so far have been black (plus Boricua Jaslene Gonzalez), but catwalks in the States and overseas have been slow to integrate as industry insiders still claim that non-white models just don't sell the fantasy—you know, of being young, gaunt and blonde. Vogue Italia to the rescue!
The entire July issue will feature black models exclusively, all shot by American photographer Steven Meisel, who famously captured BFF Madonna for her 1992 "Sex" book. Newly discovered-but-already-worshiped 17-year-old Jourdan Dunn will grace the cover.
Vogue Italia editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani told the UK's Independent, "Nobody is using black girls. I see so many beautiful girls, and they were complaining that they are not used enough."
When asked if she thought there might be some backlash in Italy, which has had an increasing "uncomfortable" relationship with its immigrants, Sozzani was blunt: "Maybe in our country it is not the best idea. But I don't care. I think it is not my problem if they don't like it—it's their problem."
Neal Hamil, director of Elite Model Management, called the concept "a milestone" and said he hoped the issue would have a "huge effect" on the industry.
"Most of what Vogue Italia does is very impactful, and certainly everything Steve Meisel [does] is massively influential," said Hamil, who agreed that the fashion business has always "been difficult for black models."
And the industry, Hamil added, "hasn't changed enough."
Style expert Tai Beauchamp said the key is to create a movement.
"It seems that models of color have been less vocal than in the days of the Beverly Johnsons, Pat Clevelands, Imans, and Bethann Hardisons of the fashion world," Beauchamp said, then added, "Now that somewhat of a blueprint is being laid, we have to encourage U.S. titles and media to follow suit."
Kyle Hagler, senior manager at IMG Models, agreed that since Iman, Naomi and Tyra—each representing a different catwalking generation—diversity among supermodels has dropped off.
"People may ask, are the models there now?" said Hagler. "They are."
Whether Vogue Italia lights a fire under the stateside edition remains to be seen. In recent years, Vogue has had only two African Americans on its cover—an exuberant Jennifer Hudson and a controversially ferocious LeBron James.
Choosing Dunn as its newest cover girl, though, can't be just coincidence. Discovered just two years ago and heralded within the business as "the next Naomi," Dunn has been just as outspoken about race on the runway.
The teenager discussed the color of London's fashion week with the Evening Standard in January. "London's not a white city, so why should all our castings be white? I go to castings and see several black and Asian girls, then I get to the show and look around and there's just me and maybe one other coloured face," she said. "They just don't get picked. I hope it's because the designer just didn't think they were good enough as a model, but I don't know."
It's hard to image beautiful women standing in line waiting to "get picked" like 10-year-olds at recess, but such is the business of fashion. Hopefully, Vogue Italia's latest move will change the game.
Helena Andrews is a regular contributor to The Root.