The Fallen Legacy of Black Supermodels
1 year ago
Some young faces of color are fighting their way back onto the catwalk
There was a whisper echoing throughout New York Fashion Week last February, and it didn't have anything to do with Alexander Wang's finale look. Though rich with inspiration and creativity, there was something missing from the catwalk: a strong showing of black models.
Cited in the media as the "whitest" Fashion Week since 2008, the week-long event at Lincoln Center provided a catwalk for over 5,000 looks, of which only seven percent were modeled by black women. While there may be strength in numbers, there are a cache of black models who are quickly becoming some of the industry's most sought after talent. They're inking multi-million dollar advertising campaigns, gracing the pages of high fashion magazines and flying to Paris, London and Milan to walk in the most highly anticipated shows. With the supermodel era nearly two decades in the past, whether their careers will reach the status of Tyra and Naomi's before them is uncertain. Still, many are striving for just that, hoping that if they get there, their face won't be the only brown one at the top.
Among these models is Atong Arjok. Born in Sudan and raised in San Diego, Arjok found herself at an open call for aspiring models in 2002 after she and her cousin heard an advertisement for the event on the radio. Her inimitable look piqued the interest of scouts and within weeks Arjok was signed to LA Models and off to New York to start working.
"That was a shocker," she says of the speed at which here career started to develop. "I was 17 and had never been on my own. My family was very supportive, but they were terrified." Arjok got work quickly, walking in shows for Diane von Furstenberg and 3.1 Phillip Lim and appearing in spreads for Allure and Italian Vogue. With so few models of color on the scene, she was soon in high demand and often being compared to another Sudanese beauty.