In August 1974, model Beverly Johnson landed her first Vogue cover, making her the first African-American woman to grace the front page of the women's fashion magazine. She became a defining face of the '70s, appearing on more then 500 magazine covers (including Glamour, Cosmpolitan, French Elle, Vogue), walking the runway for the likes of then-Yves Saint Laurent, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Valentino, and becoming one of the highest-paid models in the world. Johnson and her success helped break down racial barriers in the fashion industry and in society. "I was lucky to have been part of something that gave generations of African-American women a sense of belonging that we did not have until then," she told The Daily Voice in 2009.
But 40 years after her cover, Johnson says she thinks there's a lack of women of color working in the fashion industry, including models at runway shows. “Sometimes we live in this very elitist bubble called the fashion industry," she recently told Women's Wear Daily, adding that "we have become really oblivious to what's going on in the world."
This isn't the first time Johnson has voiced her opinion on the lack of diversity in fashion. In September 2013, she penned an article on The Daily Beast explaining why she didn't attend New York Fashion Week that season, adding that she "made the right decision." She wrote: "A disturbing trend that began on the runway a few years back is continuing—a trend of exclusion that is glaringly insulting and simply unacceptable to me."
Johnson went on to recount her experience attending a designer's show only to see not a single woman of color walk the runway. (The designer, who she declines to name, acknowledged her for helping break racial barriers in the fashion industry before the show.) According to Johnson, not much has changed since then. "Three years later I’m still seeing red, as more and more designers appear content with only showcasing women of European descent wearing their clothes," she wrote. "They also seem quite content with letting us people of color know that they could care less how we feel about it."
Other models have also expressed the lack of diversity they see in fashion. In March 2013, it-model Chanel Iman told Sunday Times Magazine that race is "most definitely" still an issue. "A few times I got excused by designers who told me ‘we already found one black girl. We don’t need you anymore,'" she said. "I felt very discouraged. When someone tells you, ‘we don’t want you because we already have one of your kind, it’s really sad.”
It's unbelievable that this is still the state of the industry.