Note from BW of Brazil: This is no longer a surprising topic. If there’s a big fashion in Brazil you can believe that most of the models will be white. In fact, the vast majority of models will be white. Did I mention that in Brazil’s biggest fashion shows the overwhelming majority of models are white? Just wanted to be sure that you got the message. Whether it’s Fashion Rio or São Paulo Fashion Week (SPFW), the story’s always the same. Black models complain of their invisibility while famous name brands deny that they have bias. Below is a glimpse behind the scenes at the 2015 SPFW that took place last month, coinciding with the Month of Black Consciousness.
Being a black model in Brazil
By Lilian Pace
Another season of SPFW has gone by this month and, again, the number of black models in fashion shows was very low. Of the 35 showcases presented, 9 brands didn’t present any black models on the runways and the registry of blacks parading in the season – although very small – was in the parades of Ellus and Cavalera, each with 7 blacks in the casting of the parade with 46 and 49 looks, respectively. This issue gained momentum in Brazilian fashion in 2009, after a season of parades that featured only 8 black models among 344 – a number not too distant from that of this autumn-winter 2015.
On the ocassion, the MPS (Ministério da Previdência Social or Ministry of Social Providence) signed an agreement with Luminosidade, a company responsible for São Paulo Fashion Week (SPFW) and Fashion Rio, of that 10% of the models of each show would have to be black or of indigenous descent, and if any brand didn’t fulfill the agreement the organization would be subject to a fine of R$250,000 (Brazilian reais) (currently worth US$95,000).
This TAC (Term of Adjustment of Conduct) lasted only two years, ending in 2011. The blog LP spoke with the press office of Luminosidade to see if the company still holds some kind of measure of inclusion in parades: “Despite the TAC not in force today, SPFW and Fashion Rio recommend that brands keep the dimension that was previously established. As the event is not responsible for the hiring of models, it doesn’t have to enforce it.”
Racial quotas in fashion parades caused fanfare at the time but as much for the agencies as for the models, the current situation is not clear. “I don’t know if the quota is in the law, because I’ve seen brands that have no black models,” says model Mariane Calazan. For director of Way Model, Anderson Baumgartner, this is a point that should be rethought: “I think the quota still exists, yes, the stylists ask for us to take black models to the castings because, if I remember correctly, 20% of the parade should be composed of black models. But I think this is a complicated issue, it makes us wonder if the girl is being chosen because she is really good. I have a model, Ana Bela Santos, who has been on the market for 12 years, and she told me one day: ‘I think that’s wrong because I will not know if the designer wants me or if he is being required to put me in the parade’, and this ends up being a great truth.”
The designer Fernando Cozendey, of Casa de Criadores, brought in his last parade a casting full of models with a standard little, if ever, seen on the runways of SPFW and Fashion Rio, independent of any quota – disabled, trans, plus size … “I don’t much like the word ‘quota’, but if it is a necessary process to make greater integration happen…I think it’s a development that is necessary in the media, not only magazines and websites, but also in the beauty market. The more you talk about it the more people open their minds. In Cdc I see more black women, even in the biggest events it gives the impression that it is an obligation and not something that brands believe it is something beautiful. Therein lies the problem, why do they think that the black woman doesn’t sell? We need to think about it, actually rethink it.”
Fernando added that the problem goes further: “The Brazilian is not proud of his own ethnicity, is afraid and has an inferiority complex. The Brazilian elite is very biased, they don’t want to wear what a black woman is wearing, but what the rail thin European wears. But there’s no way, Brazil is not that.”
In point of view of Way’s booking agent and the scout, Anderson, this is an issue little related to skin color of the models themselves: “Without any hypocrisy, I select the models by the potential and not by skin color. They are presented in castings as models and not as black. We take those that have a parade profile, and it happens that so many black models don’t appear with the profile that the agency seeks. In sports, 90% of the athletes are black (1), I think that prejudice is in people’s heads, one or another brand really doesn’t hire, but I don’t think the market is as biased with this as everyone thinks (2). It’s like when companies don’t hire gays etc., they are exceptions. I am quase negro (almost black), to defend myself. But this is my vision as a booking agent and scout, not as a brand.”
On the side of black models, the view is different when it comes to ethnic shortage on the catwalk: “What else is happening is that the market doesn’t see black models like the others. I see and feel that there are those who prefer not to put a black model on to wear the clothing of their brand. It’s no use an agency having 20 black models and in the casting for a parade they’ll take only one. It’s more a matter of the market than the agency. There are clients that accept (us) very well, want us to grow and be more inserted, some or others still haven’t managed to put this in their head,” said Mariane Calazan.
Beyond the catwalks, the low number of black women is very concrete in the middle of SPFW’s backstage, which made us ask Mariane if in her agency, Way Model (which has about 300 models), the majority of the models were white, or if this lack was only on selected models to parade for the season: “If you have 5 black women it’s a lot, because I don’t think a parda (mixed or brown) girl is black. The parda girl is parda and the negra is negra, there’s no way to generalize this (3). Here, for example, you look around and see no black women, the only black one that I see here is me.”
For Natiele, of Joy Model, which began just seven months, the feeling is similar: “In the beginning I felt the difficulty, as the market for black women is very restricted. I see a change, I see models in catalogs, and even in the commercial part I think that the amount is increasing, with girls wearing cabelo black (afros) etc. I think this low number is a problem that comes from Brazil, not the brand itself. But there’s a bit of a lack of girls they run after because, even if it is a limited market, there are opportunities.”
Carola, 20, also of Joy Model, sees the situation going far beyond the fashion market, agencies and brands. With tears in her eyes, the model said to the Blog LP: “There is lack of black models in fashion shows…They simply don’t exist. I have nothing to say. I think that while we don’t do something to change Brazil, this situation will not cease to exist, and the feeling is that they will never have more than two black women on the catwalk.”
Source: Lilian Pace
1. Although Afro-Brazilians have more opportunity in sports, this is a gross exaggeration. Even in the world of professional futebol, for example, pretos (blacks) and pardos (browns) do not dominate the sport numerically like, say, African-American players in the US National Basketball Association.
2. One will note that even with the year-to-year “blackout” of black models in Brazil’s top fashion shows, people still have trouble with admitting the fact of racial exclusion in these events. This man’s comments are indicative of how Brazilian society deals with racism in general. The myth of “racial democracy” continues…
3. According to most research, in socioeconomic factors that indicate racial inequality in Brazil, pretos (black) and pardos (browns) experience discrimination in similar manners and have almost identical socioeconomic profiles that confirm this. But as Brazil is dominated by a Eurocentric ideology of beauty, one can expect that parda women of lighter skin would have certain advantages in comparison to those who are considered preta. While pretas and pardas combined are usually considered to be be Brazil’s população negra (black population), the terms preta and negra are often used interchangeably in reference to persons of African descent of darker skin tones and more obvious African features. For more, see here.