Alarmed by the lack of ethnic models on the catwalk, Vogue Italia will feature black models almost exclusively in the July issue of what's often called the most influential fashion magazine in the world.
"This idea came about as a reaction to the models of today," Franca Sozzani, Vogue Italia's editor, said in a phone interview. "I go to a fashion show and every girl is blond and blue-eyed and they all walk the same and look the same.
"I thought we needed to break away from this type of thing," she said. "There are so many beautiful black women not being used."
Sozzani said the time also seemed right for an all-black issue now that Barack Obama will soon become the first black nominee for president of the United States.
The July issue, which comes out next week, will feature a wide range of women of all ages and will include actors, models and singers such as Naomi Campbell
, Tina Turner, Jody Watley and Iman
Sozzani said the fashion industry was different in the 1980s and 1990s, when models had distinctive, individual looks.
"Then models did their own interpretations of the fashions they were wearing, but now the girls all look alike," she said.
Sozzani said that some editors might argue that black faces don't sell at the newsstand.
"But we sell the same amount if we have Naomi Campbell on the cover," she said.
The lack of ethnic models in magazines and on catwalks has long sparked international criticism.
After hundreds of white models strutted their stuff at London Fashion Week earlier this year — and only a few black models were included in the show — the British press asked whether racism was stalking the catwalk.
British designer Vivienne Westwood went so far as to demand a quota system so that fashion magazines would be forced to use more black models.
David Wolfe, creative director at Doneger Group, a New York fashion industry consultant, said that though there is a very small indication that more Asian models are being used in fashion shows, black models are still rare.
"Today Caucasian models — especially Russians and middle Europeans — are in the greatest demand, echoing the nationalistic preferences for Scandinavian models in the mid-century," he said. "Of course there are a few stellar exceptions, but models like Naomi Campbell are certainly the exception and not the rule."
Wolfe said that Vogue Italia's July issue is important because it is considered a magazine of great influence by taste-makers and trend-setters within the fashion industry.
One of Britain's leading model agents, Carole White, co-founder of Premier Model Management, has spoken out repeatedly against color prejudices in the fashion industry.
She said that one reason for the decline in the use of black models might be the collapse of former Eastern-bloc countries, which led to a new "waif" look fuelled by an influx of white, bland and very skinny girls.
She said another problem is that photographers still don't always know how to correctly light the skin of black models.
White called Vogue Italia's move "fantastic" and said the magazine was "making the changes happen that are so necessary."