The Blackface Controversy and How the Fashion Industry can Modernize

By Jasmine Chorley Foster

In February of 2013 images from a fashion editorial called “African Queen” appeared online, sparking a debate about cultural appropriation and creative license. The series of images depict a young, Caucasian woman wearing dark-brown make-up, vibrantly printed fabrics, and accessories reminiscent of Arab and African traditional dress. The model is positioned in stoic, regal, and dance-like poses against a grey studio backdrop. The “African Queen” editorial calls awareness to ethnic representation in fashion. In analysing such images, models and non-models alike can develop an understanding of why the fashion industry has failed to shy away from eurocentrism. I’ll pay particular attention to the implications of the images, and the creative team’s intent.

What does the editorial say about race, beauty, and voice? What does the controversy reveal about the fashion industry’s attitudes towards issues of representation? What was the rationale behind the casting, wardrobe, make-up, and editorial choices? Who is ultimately responsible for the offensive nature of the images? How can an industry built on art, craft, and advertising reconcile respectful representation with creative freedom?

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