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Style By the Way, Fashion Week's Lazy, Racist Backstage Secret Hasn't Gone Away After All These Years

23:25  03 october  2019
23:25  03 october  2019 Source:   cosmopolitan.com

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a man in a yellow dress holding a cell phone: Ashley Chew, the model behind the hashtag #BlackModelsMatter, says that despite all those viral stories, hairstylists and makeup artists are *still* struggling with diversity behind the scenes at New York Fashion Week.© Victor Boyko - Getty Images Ashley Chew, the model behind the hashtag #BlackModelsMatter, says that despite all those viral stories, hairstylists and makeup artists are *still* struggling with diversity behind the scenes at New York Fashion Week.

Before a runway show, it's chaos: the incessant sound of 15 hairdryers blowing air simultaneously, journalists and editors interviewing designers, stylists and makeup artists at work on the models, photographers snapping photos. The whole pre-show process is long, so when I saw a call time of 5 pm for a 9 pm runway show during New York Fashion Week in the beginning of September, I wasn't fazed. Arriving on the dot, I patiently waited with a group of other models for my turn with the mostly homogenous industry professionals ahead of my walk. But after what felt like a long time without being seen, I realized: They're pretty much only doing the white girls.

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a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Ashley Chew walking at New York Fashion Week.© Chance Yeh - Getty Images Ashley Chew walking at New York Fashion Week.

That group of models I was waiting with? We were all women of color with natural curls and virtually none of us were ready with makeup or hair. Fifteen minutes roll by, half an hour passes—no one checks on us. A few of the girls go and ask the stylists, "Will you be doing us next?" They're brushed off. We settle in to talking about life, scrolling through Instagram—we check in a few more times. Nothing.

That old feeling seeps in. Oh, they're scared, we think, sharing knowing glances with each other. They don't know what they're doing so they're putting us off 'til the end. Great. More slap-dash work from someone who, after all this procrastinating, won't even be able to do the simplest of tasks on darker skin or natural hair. When was the last time this happened to you guys? Yesterday? Yep.

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Scanning the room, I could see other models getting their hair blown out, or done in intricate updos, and even having it dyed with temporary color. All the white models' makeup was nearly complete.

At 8:40—20 minutes before the show—a hairstylist finally approaches me. She tells an assistant to "slick down my edges" with water and gel, and the woman she talks to looks so lost. She pats my hair so lightly, I can feel her hesitation with every touch. Then she stops completely. The other stylist comes back over and has her hold my hair, while she wraps an elastic around it to form a puff...the style I'd arrived in.

You've already heard the horror stories of models enduring overt racism backstage. So the fact that I waited around for hours to receive a barely-decent ponytail from a professional stylist? It's baffling, sure, but not new. A story like mine goes viral every year. People shout about their outrage, sweeping promises are made. But here we are in 2019 and. Nothing. Has. Changed. How many more times do models of color need to tell the fashion and beauty industries that this is messed up before they actually do something to prevent embarrassing experiences like the one I had?

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Diversity and inclusion have been the fashion industry's buzzwords for some time now. In 2014, I started the #BlackModelsMatter movement, which pushed to see more representation on the runways. At the time, runways were only about 10 percent diverse. This year, there was at least one model of color at every show at NYFW, so, on the surface, yeah, it looks like things have gotten way better. But inside fashion week, it's clear that some makeup artists and hairstylists still don't know how to handle all types of hair and skin tones—and the designers who hire them don't seem to notice, or care.

I'm not a high-profile model, but even if I was, it probably wouldn't matter. Just a couple weeks ago, Leomie Anderson, a Victoria's Secret Angel, went off about this very topic on Twitter, touching on the level of inexperience and ineptitude hired makeup artists have when it comes to models of color. Legends like Naomi Campbell, Ebonee Davis, Jourdan Dunn, and more have made the same arguments throughout the years.

"Black models, stand strong!" Leomie wrote, in the midst of London Fashion Week this season. "Come to work with your base already done and don’t allow them to take it off! Just got asked to remove mine by the makeup artist and I just had to tell her straight I’ve given a lot of chances to get it right and it hasn’t happened so no."

When I saw this, my jaw dropped to the floor. Just kidding—I was not surprised in the least. A model friend of mine, Arielle Chambers, had just posted on her own feed about her shitty makeup application experience days prior, in which she was "color-matched" (sarcastic air-quotes, all mine) in a shade about four tones too light, with a sheen of grayish dustiness to match. And, no, that was not the look the designer was going for.

This season, because it's more than apparent that no one is working on resolving this issue, I personally gave out free makeup in deeper shades to my model peers. Thankfully, an outraged indie beauty brand, Pacifica Beauty, provided it at no cost and, even more shockingly, with no sponsorship strings. But we shouldn't have to do this.

Every time any model—from Naomi Campbell and Leomie Anderson to the lesser-known ones doing the runway for more exposure—has to apply her own makeup and do her own hair, she's doing the job of at least two other professionals that were paid (sometimes more than the models!) to be there. And, trust, these models are not getting compensated for their extra time and work. What's worse, sometimes makeup artists and hair stylists add photos of WOC models who had to DIY their show looks to their portfolios and take credit for the look by saying, "I worked on the team for this designer." That's almost like plagiarism.

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a group of people walking down a street: Street Style - Spring 2016 New York Fashion Week© Melodie Jeng - Getty Images Street Style - Spring 2016 New York Fashion Week

"I don't have that shade in my kit," "I'm scared to work with this kind of hair," or "I don't know what to do," are phrases I hear all the time in my line of work. This is straight-up unacceptable. Representation isn't going away.

Designers can put models of color in cornrows at their shows, but if the people behind the scenes don't even know how to braid textured hair and if the backstage staff isn't diverse at all, maybe we should call it cultural exploitation rather than representation. And, by the way, if models of color don't look their best—especially compared to the other models working the same gig—there can be real implications for these women's careers. They might not get booked on future campaigns or shows. And remember: Black makeup artists and hair stylists are required to learn all skin tones and hair types or they would never graduate from beauty school or be hired for any show. Just let that sink in.

So here's the solution: If your cosmetology school doesn't focus on natural hair or darker-skinned makeup, go to YouTube and study up. Take a masterclass in a nearby city. Try to set up test shoots with models in your area to get real-life experience—Instagram's a great place to find emerging models. Head to the makeup counter at a department store and ask about the best shades for ethnic skin tones, then keep those in your kit so you can use them in a jam. In the age of social media, even reaching out to a model ahead of a shoot or show and asking her favorite shades and products is easy. The tools exist out there for you to learn new techniques. Take advantage of them, so you don't have to be "scared" to do your job.

Designers aren't off the hook here, either. If they care about inclusion, it should apply backstage just as much as it does on the catwalk. They should be hiring a diverse set of people for every job involved in the show, using lighting techs and photographers who understand all skin tones, and partnering with professionals who know the best techniques for every possible beauty scenario—especially if they're trying to make a big point about representation in the first place. If they're not ticking off the above boxes, it becomes super clear that they only care about this issue because they don't want to receive any backlash. Well, designers, I'm calling you out anyway. You don't get points for "representation" if it doesn't go deeper than the runway.

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