It is the leading fashion event in one of the most racially diverse nations on Earth, a week-long celebration of Brazilian style, glamour and beauty. But the lack of indigenous and Afro-Brazilian faces on the catwalk at São Paulo fashion week has triggered protests and calls for a 20% quota of black models.
“We cannot accept the world of fashion insisting on being a stronghold for the Eurocentric,” said Frei Davi Santos, the Brazilian race campaigner behind the protests. “São Paulo fashion week sells the image of a Swiss Brazil where everyone is white and blue-eyed. The organisers … forget that more than half of Brazil’s population is black.” There is growing dissent over the tiny number of Afro-Brazilian models reaching the top of the country’s booming fashion industry. While models of European descent such as Gisele Bündchen have exploded on to the global fashion scene, few Afro-Brazilians get a similarly high level of exposure. An inquiry by São Paulo’s public prosecutor in 2008 found that of the 1,128 models booked for fashion week that year just 28 were black. In the wake of the inquiry the event’s organisers agreed to a voluntary two-year quota of 10% for black models. But according to reports in the Brazilian press many fashion labels have ignored the quota at this year’s event. An article by Vivian Whiteman, fashion editor of the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo, noted that bookers claimed they were not hiring more black models because “research showed their clients still reject the combination of black [models] and luxury clothing”. Bruno Soares, an Afro-Brazilian booker at the São Paulo event, told the newspaper the lack of catwalk diversity was the result of “cruel rules” imposed on models by the fashion market. “For historical reasons Brazil’s black population has been poor and not a consumer of fashion. This is reflected in the casting,” he said. Oskar Metsavaht, one of Brazil’s leading designers, claimed he had hoped to field an all-black lineup of models in his show this year but had been unable to recruit a sufficient number of “top” black models. “I asked everyone for help but there were just not enough experienced professionals,” said Metsavaht, creative director of the label Osklen, whose 2012 summer collection, Royal Black, is inspired by Brazil’s African heritage. Santos added that while racial inclusion had advanced considerably in higher education, with more than 160 public universities now supporting racial quotas, the fashion industry lagged behind. She said: “According to the latest census we blacks represent 50.8% of the Brazilian population. This means an event which presents a majority of people with typically European characteristics does not represent the beauty and wealth of Brazilian ethnicity. Brazil is a country that still insists on emphasising its European side and discriminating against its beautiful indigenous and Afro-Brazilian populations. We do not want catwalks that look like catwalks in Switzerland or England.” Article by Guardian