Around here we're very concerned about the intersection of fashion and race, and we're in good company: Supermodel Naomi Campbell and famed British photographer Nick Knight recently sat down in a filmed interview for Knight's SHOWstudio to discuss the gradual progress of race in the industry and revisit their explosive 2008 response to the problem.
In the video above — posted on YouTube last week — Knight laments, "It seems like it's a conversation that has to be had again, again, and again, because it just doesn't seem to change quickly."
Agreeing emphatically, modeling powerhouse Naomi replies, "And what's so scary to me is that I don't want [race] to become a trend. I did not work 28 years for it to be a trend."
She goes on to criticize those in the industry:
"There is still an issue of ignorance in our fashion world… I don't even like to use the word racism — [they're] ignorant. They just don't want to budge. They just don't want to change their idea or be more open-minded, to just [book] a beautiful girl regardless of creed or color."
It's that same fear that prompts Naomi to continue working, mentoring new black models in the game like Jourdan Dunn, Joan Smalls, and Malaika Firth, and most likely provoked her to load up on ammunition for Knight's 2008 response to racial prejudice in fashion.
Simply entitled "Untitled," the two-minute video filmed in 2008 first displays Knight's manifesto on race in fashion and his frustration with seeing it play itself out time and time again.
As the lensman's manifesto argues, designers' failure to consistently cast models of color in order to justify business revenue feels regressive — Knight patently labels the move racist.
Seconds later, armed with fully loaded machine guns, Naomi Campbell can be seen shooting rounds upon rounds of ammunition at an unseen target, draped in Rodarte.
It's a powerful display of pent up frustration, released. Giggling maniacally, the model is taking down metaphorical barriers blocking progress for her and other models of color.
The image of Campbell roaring atop a tank juxtaposed against Knight's words seem to represent, yes, an unfiltered anger, but also her leading a cavalry of models in an attack on the status quo.
Hardly a literal promotion of guns or violence, Campbell's gun-ablaze-pose is a metaphorical visual that still resonates today. The provocative imagery showed up in 2014 via a machine-gun toting Nicki Minaj in her video "Lookin' Ass" and in 2009, when Rihanna sat on a pink army tank in the military-inspired visuals for her hit, "Hard."
But even more, as Campbell tells Knight in their recent interview, the video still speaks to a remaining gap in fashion diversity: “2014, we’ve just finished the shows – 6.8% [of models were black]. Asian –7.9%. Not great."
As Dazed points out, Naomi's "stats indicate that 85.3% of models walking at the major fashion weeks of New York, London, Milan and Paris were white. As Campbell says, that's not great."
However, the model does make mention of the steady impact this video and her initiative has made, citing the 2008 issue of the all-black Vogue Italia and the strides the magazine's editor, Franca Sozzani, has made in increasing diversity ("She takes the risks!"). And while Campbell reveals she keeps up with her modeling mentees through a What's App group text (adorable), encouraging them to keep working despite setbacks or prejudice, she declared, "I won't stop talking about [diversity] until I see improvement."
Same, girl. Same.
Marjon Carlos is a style and culture writer for Fusion who boasts a strong turtleneck game and opinions on the subjects of fashion, gender, race, pop culture, and men's footwear.