By: Escher Walcott
In recent years, diversity has finally reintroduced its way into the modeling industry. A new high of 46.8% of models of color appeared for NYFW Spring 2020 shows. We are now seeing models of color in not only larger numbers but more wide-ranging appearances.
During the ‘90s supermodel era, a young British-Jamaican model by the name of Naomi shaped the new standard of black beauty with her long flowing weave and heart-shaped face. Sudanese-British model Alek Wek arrived on the scene shortly afterwards, sporting a shaved head. During this time, Alek and Naomi were the only two images of black beauty recognized in the modeling industry.
Today the dynamic has noticeably changed. The recognition of the black alternative scene has brought to light the many interesting ways people of color individualize themselves. This movement is a lifestyle that has made its way out of the underground.
The originator of alternative beauty, ‘80s singers / song writer, actress and model Grace Jones, was the first to highlight black eccentricity. Her smeared makeup and androgynous appearance set the tone for black women to stand proud in their differences.
Today ethnic models are being hired for their unconventional vibe. There aren’t many taboos left to break on the runway, thanks to these ground-breaking models reshaping the industry.
MEET THE MODELS
Coining herself ‘Uglyworldwide’ on Instagram, Jazzelle relishes in causing a stir when it comes to her appearance. The 24-year-old, mixed-race Detroit native has amassed over 600k followers thanks to her transformative make-up looks. Jazzelle also immersed herself in the drag scene after moving to New York at age 17. “I shaved off my eyebrows…it’s just easier to recreate a fantasy on your face without eyebrows.” The model explained to New York Magazine in 2018.
By going one step further and shaving her head, this transformation afforded her the opportunity to work with acclaimed British photographer Nick Knight. Since then, Jazzelle has appeared in shows for Gareth Pugh and Savage Fenty and featured on covers for Paper and i-D magazine, bringing her innate quirkiness to every shot.
Despite being only 23 years old, Slick Woods has already established herself as a household name in the modeling game. Her story of discovery reads like a fairy-tale; starting out as a homeless teenager in LA who, after meeting photographer Dave Mushegain, landed her first gig working with Kanye West for his Season 2 Yeezy lookbook. After a series of lucky breaks, Woods’s modeling career has gone from strength to strength. She has shot for countless well-known brands including UGG and Moschino and walked for Fendi, Marc Jacobs, and Puma.
Sporting a wide gap-toothed grin, a gun tattoo, and a colorful shaved head, Woods’ look is hard to miss. The model’s bold image garnered her a spot in Rihanna’s Savage Fenty show in 2018 which she famously walked nine months pregnant, giving birth shortly afterward. A fully-fledged tomboy who doesn’t take herself too seriously, Woods brings masculine energy to the modeling industry that is also versatile and playful.
Raised in Nigeria by a Chinese-Thai mother and a Nigerian father, Adesuwa was never confronted with her differences until she moved to America. In a 2017 interview she says, “I was able to grow up free and untethered by the main masses’ concepts of beauty and self-preservation.”
Adesuwa was discovered on campus at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, after which she shot her first cover for Vogue Thailand, becoming the second woman to do so.
What Adesuwa considers her breakthrough model moment though, was when she dreadlocked her hair ahead of NYFW in 2017. In an essay written for The Guardian she says, “the industry worried that I wouldn’t get jobs – the suggestion was that I might look “too black”.
However, Adesuwa surprisingly booked a show with Coach days later and has since walked for Prada, Chanel, and Miu Miu.
NEW AGE BEAUTY
Adut Akech is a South Sudanese-Australian beauty. She was discovered during Melbourne Fashion Week and made her runway debut at the Saint Laurent SS17 show. She won ‘Model of the Year’ at the British Fashion Awards in 2019 and was one of 15 faces selected by Meghan Markle to cover British Vogue, representing ‘Forces of Change’.
Raisa Flowers likes to stand out in more ways than one. In rocking multiple facial piercings and colored hair and contacts daily, she has built up her own impressive client list. A self-taught make-up artist, Raisa has created many of Jazzelle Zanaughtti’s striking looks. A popular plus-size muse, Raisa has walked for Savage Fenty and Nicholas Kirkwood in the last couple of years.
Egyptian-born, Anok shot to modeling fame after a photo of her at a college event went viral. She has since opened and closed shows for top designers Givenchy and Tom Ford. In a behind-the-scenes video with Vogue, Anok discussed only wearing her natural hair at shows, “I want people to see you can rock cornrows or a little afro and still be sexy”.
Known for swishing her signature long-length braids down the runway, newcomer Indira has managed to find her feet in the modeling industry without having to compromise her look. The Queens, New York native recognises the privilege her light complexion has afforded her in the industry’s acceptance of her hairstyle. She hopes one day all black models can be accepted for wearing braids if they choose to. Indira told Refinery29 last year, “the fashion industry could be so beautiful…if our hair…could be a representation of who we are”.
This British model also moonlights as a DJ and judging by her Instagram stories, she is no stranger to the alternative scene. Georgia recently walked shows for Burberry and Mugler and shows off as much of a kooky sense of style off the runway on her social media. Be warned: her eccentric make-up looks might hypnotize you.