Black Mirror: Fashion Killa? Can Modeling Agencies Discriminate?

Black models have long lamented the apparent lack of diversity in print and on the runway. In collaboration with photographer Raffael Dickreuter, model Deddeh Howard launched her Black Mirror photo project. With “Black Mirror”, the fashion audience observes advertising campaigns by Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Guess and others originally featuring white models, such as Gigi Haddid, Kendall Jenner, and Giselle Bundchen, recreated to depict images that show “what they could look like with a black model.” Deddah wrote in her blog,

Raffael Dickreuter via
Deddeh describes looking for work at fashion agencies and being told that the agency’s quota of one black model was already filled.  Deeded writes in her blog,
Not too long ago it happened to me that I would walk into various fashion model agencies and I would immediately be compared to that one or two black model that they had on the roster. Even though I was told by those agencies that I have an amazing look and wish they could represent me, they already have a black model.

Raffael Dickreuter via
Deddeh describes the scenario as “bizarre.” But others may wonder: Is that even legal? Can an agency legally make hiring decisions on the basis of race?  
In the U.S., fashion agencies are not considered the “employers” of models. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, applies only in employer-employee context.  It doesn’t apply to independent contractor relationships.

Photo via Teen Vogue

Since a model is considered an independent contractor, s/he is not afforded Title VII’s protection from employment discrimination on the basis of race. This means IMG Modeling Agency can legally tell Willow Smith “sorry, we already have Chanel Iman so we’re not going to hire you because welllll you’rrrrre, welllll, BLACK.”  

Models are more likely to be considered employees of the agency’s clients.  So who polices the clients? As in who polices Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Guess? Not the courts. Clients may be employers, but their casting decisions are considered “artistic expression” which the First Amendment protects from scrutiny.  If a model is not what the designer “artistically and aesthetically” envisioned in designing their collection, courts won’t hold the designer accountable for deciding not to hire that model on the basis of her race.  Based on the detrimental effects of allowing agencies to make biased selections without considering black talent, some would say that consumers should be the voice of equanimity through their buying decisions. (Pssst . . . If you’re selling your Chanel 2.55 in protest, let me know first!)

Photo via

While no legal recourse exists for discriminatory hiring of talent, a lack of racial diversity in fashion, may nevertheless be worthy of attention. When diversity of skin color remains narrowly represented merely by one model of color, fashion fans miss out on the complex beauty that can be achieved by diversity of aesthetic.


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