Jourdan Dunn’s Vogue cover isn’t enough

TOP MODEL: Jourdan Dunn, seen here preparing for the Burberry Prorsum catwalk show last year, is the first black woman ...

TOP MODEL: Jourdan Dunn, seen here preparing for the Burberry Prorsum catwalk show last year, is the first black woman to grace the cover of British Vogue solo in 12 years.

OPINION: Style commentators have been quick to applaud British Vogue for their recent choice of cover model. Jourdan Dunn is the first solo black woman to feature on one of their covers in 12 years – the first since Naomi Campbell in August 2002 (that's a whopping 136 covers ago if you care to count). A mightily well-deserved milestone for Dunn, but a sad indictment of how things are in the fashion industry.

After a whitewashed line-up of cover stars in 2014 (which it got criticised for by commenters on Instagram), British Vogue decided to pop Dunn on its February 2015 issue.

This isn't the first time Dunn's broken ground as a model of colour. In 2008, she became the first black model to walk Prada's runway in a decade and has been vocal about the prejudice she's faced, fearlessly tweeting her opinions and calling out designers and casting agencies for instances of racism. Just last year, Dunn spoke openly about the industry's problem with race and where it stems from: "The people who control the industry … They say if you have a black face on a magazine cover it won't sell – but there's no real evidence for that."

Jourdan Dunn’s new British Vogue cover
British Vogue

Jourdan Dunn’s new British Vogue cover

Unfortunately, British Vogue isn't the only fashion power player to fail so miserably in this regard. According to a recent survey, Harper's Bazaar performed just as abysmally, as did Porter, Love Magazine and various other editions from the Vogue franchise. And given this sad state of affairs, it'll certainly take more than one cover to turn things around. One cover isn't enough to make up for decades of tone deafness. (And FYI, using models of colour in the background or as props or decorating a white model in 'black face' don't count.)

So, what seems to be the problem? The world's first black supermodel and diversity advocate Beverly Johnson argues that the industry's gone backwards since her trailblazing days due to its wilful cluelessness when it comes to casting.

Johnson recently told The Daily Beast: "People don't get it. They, very innocently, don't do what is best for the company and more likely hire someone like them that looks like them, which is understandable on the psychology but is not understandable in the way the world works."

Consumers are ultimately won over by seeing clothes worn by people with their likeness. And since people of colour have plenty of buying power, it makes sense for brands to represent them in their ad campaigns. There's a wealth of black models out there who would be more than qualified to take on that starring role. Chanel Iman (who appeared on the cover of British Vogue as part of a group photo shoot), Joan Smalls, Liya Kebede, Ajak Deng, Noémie Lenoir, with their perfect brown faces, impressive bodies of work and overall popularity, could easily book several covers a year. Yet instead you've got Cara Delevingne and Kate Moss being booked twice each in one year to cover the same publication.

At the end of the day, fashion is about desired aesthetics and presenting an image that is 'aspirational' to the masses.  When the industry only celebrates and promotes white beauty, the trickle-down effect is that women of colour are not seen as beautiful and glamorous. Can you think of any other industry as incidentally racist?

Talks about diversity have certainly amped up over the past few seasons. Jourdan Dunn and Naomi Campbell are the current faces of Burberry – marking the first time the British brand's used an exclusively black cast in one of its campaigns – and it's becoming less common to see designers using entirely white casts, but the numbers are not good. White models continue to dominate the catwalk and land significantly more ad campaigns. Watching a runway show feels so pointedly whitewashed you forget what century we're in. And then you have Chanel Iman being told rubbish such as, "We already have one black girl. We don't need you any more," indicating the many instances in which tokenism is mistaken for progress.

Dunn continues to fight the good fight for model diversity. Her British Vogue cover is a major triumph, but it's an individual triumph . You can't call it a triumph for diversity as a whole when it may well take another 12 years for a model of colour to appear on the cover. The fashion industry prides itself on being cutting edge – yet it is woefully behind the times when it comes to representing its audience. Let this cover be the first of many in 2015 alone. Beyond a trend, we need permanency to truly challenge the status quo.  

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