It's easy to not be racist at work but somehow Victoria's Secret flunked this task in a fashion show broadcast in November on CBS* (and rebroadcast Dec. 8 on The CW). The show -- in which half a dozen black models were stuffed into a segment titled "Wild Thing," in which they wore tribal body paint and African wraps.
Everyone is familiar with fashion's race problem. For years, the business declined to use non-white models in its ads and runway shows. If it did so, those models were often used to promote animal prints and African-themed garb. The rise of black supermodels like Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks in the 1980s was supposed to have put an end to the unbearable whiteness of fashion. The days in which black models were only allowed to wear chunky wooden jewelry, turbans and leopard skin should have been relegated to the 1970s.
If only that were the case. The Victoria's Secret faux pas isn't isolated. In the last three years:
- Caucasian model Claudia Schiffer posed in blackface and an afro wig for a 2007 Karl Lagerfeld campaign for Dom Perignon.
- Italian Vogue published an all-black model edition in 2008 that featured a depressing amount of zebra pattern, jungle themes and, most bizarrely, black models wearing blackface.
- Also in 2008, Premier Model Management founder Carole White complained about how racist fashion clients are:
Ms White pointed the finger at those organising model castings, adding: "We have had casting briefs which say 'no ethnics'. But we are better in London than Paris and Milan; there if you offer a black girl they will drop the book like it's hot; it's such hard work for the bookers."
- In 2009, French Vogue published a spread featuring a white model in blackface.
- Christian Dior's 2010 Shanghai Dreamers campaign portrayed Asians as indistinguishable from each other.
- Also this year, Interview published a shoot in which black models were used as props or accessories -- in a threatening ghetto style -- upon which the white models lounged and posed.
- And Victoria's Secret didn't help itself by pairing its "Wild Thing" bit with a "country girl" section in which all the gingham-clad clotheshorses were as white as Klan sheets.