It has been almost 46 years since Beverly Johnson became the first black model on the cover of American Vogue. “My early days were meant to usher in a trend in the fashion industry,” Johnson wrote in an editorial for the Washington Post.
But Johnson writes that racism and exclusion still play an important role in the industry, and suggests measures to change the system.
In the play, Johnson describes an industry that has taken small steps toward progress – such as when Beyoncé asked a black photographer to turn her cover of Vogue 2018 – that was not in fact a radical change.
“The cover (by photographer Tyler Mitchell) was unique, not a spark,” she says. “Since then, no black photographer has photographed a Vogue cover. “
Johnson adds that because of her race, she was paid less than her white peers. And when she tried to request black photographers, makeup artists and hairdressers for photo shoots, she was reprimanded.
“Silence on the breed was then – and still is – the cost of entry into the upper echelons of the fashion industry,” she said.
Last week, Vogue’s dean of fashion, Anna Wintour, apologized for posting images and stories that were racially and culturally “hurtful or intolerant.”
Johnson looked disappointed. “Wow – after three decades, the chief fashion official has finally recognized that there may be a problem! ” she wrote.
She adds that Wintour, arguably the most powerful person in the fashion world, has enough power to “ostensibly allow him to hold his fashion peers accountable for structural change.”
To help the industry diversify, she would like the fashion, beauty and media industries to adopt a new inclusive hiring rule.
“I propose the” Beverly Johnson Rule “for Condé Nast, similar to the Rooney Rule in the NFL which requires that a diverse set of candidates be interviewed for any open coaching and front office position,” she said. “The‘ Beverly Johnson Rule ’would require at least two black professionals to be interviewed in a meaningful way for influential positions. “
Johnson says this rule is necessary because for so long, brands have not invested in black designers, have not retained and promoted talented black professionals, and have often excluded blacks.
“Year after year, businesses are hurting black culture while actively seeking it for inspiration and reaping the full benefits,” said Johnson. “I want to move from an icon to an iconoclast and continue to fight against racism and exclusion which has been part of the world of beauty for too long. “
Before Johnson’s arrival on Vogue, Donyale Luna, the first black model of any major fashion magazine, died in 1979 before she could become a household name. A sketch of her appeared on the cover of the Harper’s Bazaar in January 1965 and the following year, her face – at least in part – adorned the cover of the British Vogue.
Johnson, often called the first black woman on the cover of a major magazine for her cover of 1974 American Vogue, previously spoke of Luna as someone who “made models like me and others possible.”
“Why don’t we know his name? Because we don’t have people writing his story, “said Johnson to USA TODAY in 2016.” I think it’s really important to tell our stories; warts and all. The good and the bad. It inspires me to know that I am not the only one to have challenges and I have succeeded. “
Contributor: Cassandra Spratling
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