For anyone of African descent who watched last night’s Miss Universe competition, it certainly must not have gone unnoticed that none of the fifteen finalists chosen hailed from the African continent or the Caribbean. The only Black contestant in the final fifteen was from the U.S.A. So what happened to “Black is beautiful?”

In the fashion world, the lack of Black models on the covers of fashion magazines has long been a grim reality. The common justification is that Black models on covers “don’t sell.” Recently, Black models have also become almost an extinct species on the catwalks of the world’s fashion capitals. We’ve seen a shift in the industry that favours models from Eastern Europe. Black models, designers and agents say the situation hasn’t been so dire since the 1960’s.

In response to this increasingly discriminatory atmosphere, protest groups in New York including big names have formed to address the issue. Among them, Sean “Diddy” Combs controversially decided to use only Black models for his Sean Jean fall line runway show at this year’s New York Fashion Week.

Photographer Steven Meisel, who stood behind the lens for Madonna’s infamous 1992 book “Sex”, recognizes that discrimination runs rampant in the fashion industry. Speaking of the designers and magazine editors and advertisers, Meisel says: “They are the powerful people. … I have asked my advertising clients so many times, {quotes}‘Can we use a black girl?’ They say no….It all comes down to money.”{/quotes}

In a bold move to address the issue of racism in the fashion industry, Italian Vogue’s current July issue breaks a major taboo by featuring an all-Black cover series and 100-page line up of ebony models photographed by Steven Meisel. Some of the models featured are Naomi Campbell, Iman, Tyra Banks, Liya Kebede, Jourdan Dunn, Alek Wek and Pat Cleveland  and others. The issue will also feature Black women in the arts and entertainment.

Italian Vogue''s editor, Franca Sozzani, says her decision to publish an all-Black issue was partly the result of the protest groups’ efforts in New York but also because she was inspired by the meteoric rise of Barack Obama. Recently, Italian designer Donatella Versace also declared that her Spring 2009 collection was dedicated to Obama and that her line was inspired “by the type of man Barack Obama represents.” “If America is ready for Obama, why won''t they be ready for black models?” Donatella Versace asks.

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