Fashion world has sidelined black beauty, says Campbell

Naomi Campbell, who rose to fame in the international fashion world after appearing on the cover of Vogue at the age of 17, has accused magazines of "sidelining black beauty".


Campbell, 37, said she was so dismayed by the dearth of black models on the front of glossy magazines that, two decades after her Vogue debut, she was planning to set up an agency in Kenya to redress the imbalance.

The model, from south London, became one of the fashion industry's most famous faces in the Nineties and appeared on the front of British Vogue seven times following her debut shoot in 1987.

But since she appeared on its front cover in August 2002, no other black model has been similarly promoted. Speaking during a trip to Nairobi, Campbell said: "Black models are being sidelined by the major modelling agencies. It is a pity that people don't appreciate black beauty.

"Even myself, I get a raw deal from my own country in England. For example, I hardly come on the front pages of the London Vogue magazine. Only white models, some of whom are not as prominent as I am, are put on splash pages. I don't want to quit modelling until I find that black models get equal prominence and recognition by the world media," she said.

Adenike Adenitire, editor of the women's supplement for New Nation, a newspaper for Britain's black community, said she felt models with light skin were more likely to advance their careers. In 2005, the singer Beyoncé Knowles was caught up in a controversy after appearing on the front cover of Vanity Fair, when some accused the magazine of airbrushing the image to make her skin appear lighter, an allegation Vanity Fair vehemently denied. Adenitire said: "I would say a lot of black girls do not get certain breaks, not because they are not great models but because they are black. You don't really see black models on the front covers of mainstream magazines in Britain, especially darker-skinned models. The black models you do see tend to have features that are less ethnic, more Anglicised. It is far more common to see black faces on front covers in America and women who have very ethnic features."

Anya James, 20, a black model from London and a former contestant on channel Five's reality show, Make me a Supermodel, said Campbell's words rang true. "From my experience as a black model, I have to work 10 times as hard. For example, at castings, I make sure I look 110 per cent and that I'm on my best form. You hardly ever see a black model in the public eye, but no-one seems to be speaking up about this imbalance," she said.

Select Model Management, owned by Tandy Anderson, who is among the top 50 most influential black businesswomen in a list published by New Nation next week, said: "We have some very successful black models on our books such as Nadine Willis, who was the first black girl to get a Gucci contract. Nell Robinson, another of our top black models, has appeared in campaigns for Victoria's Secret and Rimmel and is shooting for H&M."

Top black models

* IMAN

Born in Mogadishu, Somalia and married to David Bowie, she is the daughter of the Somali ambassador to Saudi Arabia and was recruited by the American photographer Peter Beard.

* TYRA BANKS

The Californian talkshow host came to prominence at 17 when she was put on the books of Elite modelling agency. But she was rejected many times before making her breakthrough in commercial modelling. Now known as a judge of the reality television show America's Next Top Model.

* ALEK WEK

From the Dinka tribe of southern Sudan, she came to England with her family seeking political asylum. She studied fashion technology in London and was discovered by the Models One scout Fiona Ellis while attending a party.

By Arifa Akbar