Rihanna Is a "Dior Girl" but the Fashion Industry Still Doesn't Respect Black Women

by Casey Bruce

When news broke that Rihanna has become the first African American woman to ink the deal as a Dior Girl, I was not over the moon with joy. I just could not do it this time.

Christian Dior launched his fashion powerhouse, House of Dior, in 1946, so 69 years since its founding, there has never been a black Dior Girl.

Personally, I don’t care if Rihanna is a fashion darling and this is “well deserved.” It’s obvious to anyone with a fair amount of sense that Rihanna is gorgeous, a high-fashion icon, and one of the most popular celebrities of all time. The problem isn’t Rihanna or her ability to be a Dior Girl; the problem is that the mainstream magazine and fashion industries are still too white, and have remained due to their problems with diversity and racism and lackluster efforts to make tangible change.

At a young age, I adored reading glossies and made my mother subscribe to all of the American mainstream magazines: Vogue, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar US, and Marie Claire. I remember flipping through those pages and blatantly dismissing the obvious lack of color in those spreads and on those covers.

In 2011, I received my bachelor’s degree in journalism, with a focus in magazine writing, and I was excited about all of the possibilities I could achieve in the industry. This excitement quickly diminished the further I went down the rabbit hole, discovering the lack of diversity in the newsrooms of magazines I interned with: startups, women’s magazines, and bigger publications. Each of them had a diversity problem, and it didn’t seem as if anyone noticed, or cared enough to talk about it out loud.

I remember in 2012 when Keija Minor was named the editor-in-chief of Brides, making her the first person of color to hold that title on a masthead under Condé Nast Publications (CNP). Condé Naste, the media conglomerate that owns many of those mainstream magazines, began operating in 1909.

It took 103 years after its founding for the company to hire a black editor-in-chief.

I also remember seeing the very stunning Kerry Washington grace the cover of Vanity Fair in 2013 . I was so excited for her until I discovered she was the first black woman to do so since 2007. While there had been Black men on the cover in the interim, there had not been a solo Black woman on the cover since Beyoncé in 2005. And rom 1892 to March 2013, there had only been 29 Black women featured on the cover of Vogue.

In 2014, there had not been any startling changes to these problems.

According to Jezebel, out of the 148 fall/winter runway shows for women’s wear at this year’s New York Fashion Week, there were a total of 4,621 looks and only 985 of them were worn by models of color. That means 78.68 percent of those outfits were worn by white models.

But this isn’t just an American issue. As Fashion Spot points out, there was not one model of color on the cover of any issue of Vogue UK, Vogue Netherlands, Vogue Paris, Vogue Russia, Vogue Ukraine, Teen Vogue, Vogue Ukraine, UK, Numéro, LOVE , or Porter magazines in 2014. In the U.S., Harper's Bazaar also did not feature one model of color on its cover in 2014.

Fashion Spot examined 44 major print magazines from around the world and found that white models occupied covers 5 times more than models of color: "Out of 611 total covers (this includes issues that had multiple covers), white models appeared 567 times, while people of color made 119 appearances.

And if that’s not shocking enough, as The Guardian reported in 2014, Vogue U.K. hadn’t featured a solo model of color on a cover in 12 years up until Jourdan Dunn in February of this year.

In an interview with MTV, Rihanna explained why becoming a Dior Girl was such a huge milestone for any girl of color. “For me, for my culture, for a lot of young girls of any color, I think to be acknowledged by Dior means a lot, as a woman, to feel beautiful — to feel elegant and timeless,” said the Barbadian singer.

This is the type of “advancement” I can’t be proud of in 2015.

It took the House of Dior 69 years to acknowledge a Black woman could be high-fashion enough for the French fashion brand. It’s not that I’m not happy for Rihanna, but I’m saddened by the fact that we are still rejoicing for “firsts” in 2015 in an industry that continues to historically appropriate women of color’s cultures in the name of fashion. It took this international couture brand 69 years to acknowledge the talent, strength, and beauty of black women.

The “white is better” mindset has a detrimental impact on consumers and producers of culture. Specifically in Western culture, a girl’s self-esteem is heavily influenced by media messages, thus by being confronted by media and cultural messages that lack diversity leads to misguided and unhealthy perceptions of body image and beauty.

As far as the models themselves, as Jezebel notes so eloquently, “it forces models of color to compete against each other for the one or two runway spots that might go to a non-white girl…[and] provides downward pressure on non-white models' wages… and makes agencies less willing to invest in models of color.”

Fashion and media are crucial elements of any culture, and the continued development of our world. They evolve based on our history, society, and economy, and are a reflection of the beauty of our various backgrounds. In a world that is as racially and culturally diverse as ours, a global fashion industry that claims to celebrate beauty and reports on it should reflect the diversity of of our world.

As Coco Chanel observed, “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”

The House of Dior is lagging 69 years behind with mainstream magazines are still following suit,.

 Photo: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock

Casey Bruce is a nonprofit communications professional by day, and a freelance writer by night. She is passionate about women's and girls' rights, poverty issues, and storytelling. Follow her on Twitter @CaptCaseyBruce.