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French Vogue‘s 13 page spread caused outrage earlier this week and I’m sure, by looking at the image above, you’ve noticed why. The October issue of the magazine features 4 photographs of 25- year- old Dutch model Lara Stone with a blacked out face and body. The spread was shot by Steven Klein and ‘ethnically’ styled by the magazine’s editor Carine Roitfeld.

Some say it’s an interpretation of high fashion but painting white people black for the entertainment of other white people is so inextricably offensive that it stands entirely apart from cultural context.

Ironically, the issue, which  is promoted as the Top Models Special, doesn’t feature any black models. This clearly communicates that they’d rather hire a European/white model and turn her black rather than actually hire a black model- it’s not as if they’re lacking in numbers. It’s a shame but the issue of racism in the fashion industry feels like a broken record.

Speaking of regression, this YouTube video of an Australian blacked out Jackson 5 tribute act also raised a few eyebrows this week. American singer and actor Harry Connick Jr, who was a guest judge on the Australian variety show expressed his shock:

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Barbie8_V_20jul09_VogueItalia_b_240x360Last year, in an attempt to communicate that fashion goes beyond white, Vogue Italia, with the help of editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani, launched its first ever Black Issue. The 100 page spread featured models including Iman, Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks and Jourdan Dunn.

Now of course, Vogue weren’t necessarily trying to start a trend rather than to just address a physical reality. The issue was certainly successful- admittedly, mainly amongst black female consumers. I remember trying to get a copy and being unsuccessful in doing so because every vendor I went to had sold out. I later found out that Vogue Italia, unsure how the issue would be received, only printed and distributed a limited number of units. I personally think they just didn’t have financial faith in the issue.

Fast forward a year on and the fashion magazine’s theme for it’s annual Black Issue is, wait for it… Black Barbie. Pardon my  enthusiasm or lack of it as the case is, but I can’t help but feel slightly slapped in the face. Don’t get me wrong, I adored my first Black Barbie, and I understand that the fashion industry is a very superficial one but in the only issue of the year that acknowledges black models, why use molded brown-coloured plastic as the theme instead of the real, human black models who walk on the catwalks and pose in ad campaigns etc? In fact, why is there even a division of black and white issues?

I digress…The first black doll introduced by Barbie was done so in 1967 as Francie, a friend of Barbie’s. The first “Black Barbie” hit the stores just over a decade later in 1980.

Sozzani said: “Barbie has been an icon for whole generations which is why I really wanted to give a strong sign in step with the times, and dedicate the anniversary issue to Black Barbie.”

This autumn will see a launch of a collection of black Barbie’s called the So in Style dolls, which apparently have “more authentic-looking black features, including a new facial sculpt that has fuller lips, a wider nose, more distinctive cheek bones and curlier hair”. In other words a caricature of black people.

Well, I doubt the 2009 issue will be as well embraced as last year’s but who knows. Never underestimate the power of plastic fantastic.

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Photos from Vogue.co.uk

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