The fashion house of Christian Dior nearly lost its pizzazz when its creative director John Galliano got himself fired for anti-Semitic remarks he made in a Parisian restaurant in 2011. Dior, as a brand, was always legendary but became one of the hottest on the planet with products like the “saddle bag“, popularized by the early seasons of Sex and The City, and when under the wing of Galliano’s fun personality. He was like the ’90s version of a Salvador Dali.
For a lot of Galliano’s acclaimed shows, the Dior runways were mainly casted by a majority of White models. But a select women of color and Black models were included to strut such as Naomi Campbell, Alek Wek, Debra Shaw, Yasmin Warsame and Chanel Iman. Galliano wasn’t known to not like Black models and the Black women associated with Dior were varied in shades of brown. Accusations of racism didn’t taint the Dior reign until after 2011. Yet even before Galliano’s demise, Black models were limited to their advertisements, and certainly as the face for the house’s cosmetics line.
When Galliano was ousted and Raf Simons was in, the brand began to get hit with serious claims of racism. After Simons, Dior shows displayed a more blatant Caucasian models only rhetoric and the brand was shortlisted for being one of the most racist fashion houses in the business when it came to casting models.
Some of the biggest names who move fashion to the forefront, like Dior, get a D- on ethnic diversity. I feel the Dior cast is just so pointedly white that it feels deliberate. I watch that show and it bothers me — I almost can’t even concentrate on the clothes because of the cast. And recently they’re changing from a very diverse, worldwide, multicultural cast to just a very Germanic-looking white girl. –James Scully, as quoted in BuzzFeed’s 5 Top Casting Directors Explain Why Runways Are So White
In 2015, Dior enthusiastically announced that Rihanna would be their next celebrity spokesmodel. While most blogs and sites shared the exciting news (its RIHANNA) others made sure to focus and milk the incredibly loud fact that Barbardian pop star would be Dior’s first Black spokesmodel in their 69-year legacy. In the all the years since Dior was first established by its namesake creator in 1946, not one Black model, including iconic supermodel Campbell, had ever been chosen as the seasonal face of the label, which is really lame. (Sadly it’s not just Dior with this problem. Cue Phoebe Philo, the creative director of Celine).
Opinionated journalists lambasted Dior for wanting the fashion obsessed and the public to start charging to their nearest Dior counter or store because of Rihanna’s new gig, while glossing over the bittersweet reality that she should’ve been the fifth or tenth “Black” face of the brand. It is a odd place as a consumer, especially if you’re socially conscious, or a Black woman.
Fashion and makeup brands do this a lot, which is not fully understanding how incorporating diversity is also a matter of sensitivity. Take Neutrogena. Kerry Washington and Gabrielle Union are spokesmodels and that’s great. They’ve both done commercials for the skincare line and also the makeup, but Neutrogena cosmetics do not contain any brown shades. Their “darkest” hue is called “Tan” and “Tan” certainly doesn’t fit Union. And on Washington, she’ll be better off wearing straight white powder if using Neutrogena foundation.
Maybelline, another huge cosmetic name, has noticeably lightened the brown hues of their Fit Me! line. And some of their other face products barely have a brown shade. Yet top models, like Jourdan Dunn and Jessica White, are one of their most popular faces. (SIDENOTE: Dunn along with Campbell were recently chosen by Christopher Bailey as the leads for Burberry’s Spring/Summer 2015 and the ads are pure gorgeous cool).
(And look at this ad below for Maybelline’s Fit Me! It features shades of brown, but your local pharmacy or retailer may display otherwise).
How can Black consumers celebrate Black women winning these awesome cosmetic and fashion contracts when the products either don’t comply with their needs or as customers have been unfairly ignored for so long? It’s insulting to know that Dior didn’t have beautiful models of color from the past like Bethann Hardison and Veronica Webb as the leads. But is it fair to boycott Dior now that’s Rihanna‘s time has come? To make an effort and get yourself some Dior products or a crazy handbag would definitely send a message that a Black face and body can still represent a major company and keep business proper. But how can we also let it known be that their former negligence is not okay?
When French brand Lancome announced last year that Lupita Nyong’o would be their latest ambassador, the anticipation was high becuse Nyong’o’s espresso tone was a gorgeous reminder that Black is beautiful. This past February, it was confirmed that sales were boosted by $63 million thanks to Nyong’o’s co-sign. Again proving that people did want diversity and products and brands that reflect that. Lancome has had a good track record of brown shades in their makeup line. And prior to the Oscar winner, models like Dominican-born Arlenis Sosa, broke ground too.
Lately, Dior’s makeup line has expanded its foundation to true shades of chestnut and mocha. Rihanna’s newest campaign is meant to be celebrated by all Black women and as another notch for inclusion in fashion. Supporting the “Fashion Killa“‘s turn for Dior will likely come down to an each her own choice. Many probably aren’t even aware of the societal and historical context of her being Dior’s first Black spokesmodel. While #RihannaNavy on the other hand may be more on a mission to get that $25+ Rouge Addict lipstick.
So how much longer will it be that when a Black girl or an Asian girl getting a modeling contract, or even a major part in a non-“Black” movie isn’t history making news and just awesome news that someone talented or recently undiscovered is getting some shine? Tagging Rihanna as the “first Black face of Dior” feels absurd and somewhat like a gimmick. The annoying reality is that despite our irritation with Dior’s blatant systematic racism, we should enjoy Rihanna’s glamorous ads and not feel guilty for feeling a sense of loyalty to support the campaign. Truthfully, there may be no better time than now to do so.