Dior casts black models for first time in several seasons

On Monday, Dior presented its Fall/Winter 2013/2014 haute couture collection in Paris during fashion week. In addition to a colorful collection composed of daring garments, black models walked the Dior runway for the first time in six seasons.

Since designer Raf Simons assumed the creative helm of the fashion house, not a single black model has been selected for Dior fashion shows until Monday, according to several media sources.

For that collection, well-known beauties “Alek Wek, Grace Mahary, Joan Smalls, Maria Borges, Kelly Moreira, and Yasmin Warsame all walked,” according to feminist web site, Jezebel.com.

Dior’s history of all-white shows

Some question whether this about face decision regarding model casting was based on pressure on the fashion industry to diversify its runways. Dior in particular has been lambasted for its completely white fashion shows.

“I feel the Dior cast is just so pointedly white that it feels deliberate,” well-known casting director James Scully said about a recent Dior season in an interview with BuzzFeed. “I watch that show and it bothers me — I almost can’t even concentrate on the clothes because of the cast.”

The six black models featured in Dior’s Fall/Winter show were joined by other models of color as well — others believe not out of a genuine desire for diversity, but rather as an extension of the show’s theme.

The use of black models: For a theme?

Simons is said to have described the inspiration for the show as “women from different continents and cultures who wear couture,” a theme that was evident in the designs. Could this have necessitated a racial variety of models?

Telegraph fashion writer Lisa Armstrong noted in the collection both “Masai beading” and “origami folding,” illustrating the types of global aesthetics ranging from African to Japanese that informed Simons’ choices.

While most observers lauded Dior’s creative director for his ability to seamlessly meld an international array of fashion influences, critics were less enthusiastic about the possibility that black models were only used to extend his multicultural theme.

“We’ll write about the clothes later–they looked gorgeous,” opined Leah Chernikoff at Fashionista.com. “But we’re really hoping this diverse casting wasn’t just an anomaly to reflect a ‘multi-culti,’ ‘African tribesman,’ ‘Geisha girl’ theme.”

Despite this fear, black fashion thought leaders are applauding the change in Dior’s casting — although there have still been no black models used by the luxury brand for its advertisements or look books in seven seasons.

Hopes for more diversity in fashion

That might just be “room to grow” for the storied fashion house.

“While there is still a loooong way to go,” writes Julee Wilson of The Huffington Post on the issue of booking black models, “we’ll count Dior’s show of diversity as a #win and hope that others follow suit.”

The issue of race in fashion is an ongoing point of debate. Many have accused the beauty and style industries of racist practices, particularly in the casting of black models, who are often rarely selected to represent prestigious brands.

Other controversies regarding fashion’s depictions of race include the recurrent use of blackface makeup on white models and the use of stereotyped imagery of blacks in editorials, advertisements, designs and illustrations.

TheGrio has reached out to Dior for comment on the use of black models in its Fall/Winter 2013/2014 haute couture presentation, and did not receive comment by publication time.

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.