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All-African Vogue Italia Super Successful

Black America Web.com , News Analysis, Patrice Gaines Posted: Aug 10, 2008

In Chicago, Alma Hopkins spent days searching. In Los Angeles, Karen Grisby Bates got used to the words, Weve sold out. In New York, Maiysha finally found two copies.

The hot item the women were hunting for is the July issue of Vogue Italia: A Black Issue.

The famous glossy features black models at a time when the high fashion industry has ignored them in favor of waif-like models of European descent. A month after its release the Vogue Italia, which generally sells for from $15 to $20is being sold on eBay for $40.

The issue sold out in the U.S. almost immediately after its release, prompting Conde Nast to print 40,000 more copies.

Hopkins, Bates and Maiysha (a model and musician who uses only her first name) were among the fortunate who found copies. Meanwhile, all over the country, lots of people are still searching.

I just thought (the issue) was really cool, said Hopkins, a Chicago actress and advertisement creative director. I saw some of the editorials on the web and the shots were great, classy and high fashion.

There are so many reasons I wanted to buy it, said Maiysha, a plus size model and singer who has a CD coming out later this month. Mainly, being a black woman, its the rarity of something like this happening. Its significant and important, a piece of history I wanted to own.

The frenzied sales caught even bookstore clerks by surprise. At Europa Bookstore on North State Street in Chicago, a salesperson said, It was one of our biggest (magazine) sellers ever. We normally get about 20 and we placed five additional orders for 30 each time. Were ordering more today.

At the Barnes & Noble Booksellers in downtown Philadelphia, a salesperson said, We sold out our first shipment immediately. We sold the second within two days. We had 38 copies altogether. Weve been told we cant get any more. But people are still asking.

Hopkins started her search haphazardly, but then took an entire day cruising Chicago with a photographer friend, stopping at three bookstores and six newsstands before walking away with her collection.

She finally snagged her first magazine at a newsstand. The friend who accompanied her on her hunt is a photographer from Paris, who told her the magazine was just as popular in that city.

Bates, an NPR correspondent in Los Angeles, said, They were really, really hard to find here in LA because they sold out so fast. The banner across the copy I got said Second PrintingBy Popular Demand! or something like that.

McGhee Williams Osse, another Chicagoan, didnt get any of the first issues either but eventually found copies of the reprint.

At Borders on Magnificent Mile, Michigan Avenue, they said people were lined up outside the door on July 2 to get them, said Osse, Co-CEO of Burrell Communications Group.

Jamila White, an entrepreneur in Bowie, Md., hopes the number of people buying the magazine will prove to publishers that people want to see black models.

I thought the concept was great but I didnt want to just say that, verbally; I wanted to provide financial support. As a business owner I know you have to support things you like with your money.

Bates of NPR is wondering if all the hoopla will really make a difference.

As you know, Vogue has been criticized in the past for its infrequent use of black models, both on the cover and inside. Maybe this is a declaration of a new day that will see more diversity in the magazine going forward.

I actually contributed an essay to the now famed Italian Vogue issue in which I expressed ambivalence about what they were doing - and I was happy that the editors there had no problem with it. On the one hand, it's a beautiful issue. On the other, what happens next month? But the mag has been quite successful, at least in the States, so perhaps other publications will take notice, said Robin Givhan, who writes about fashion and culture for The Washington Post.

The Web site Jezebel.com, which offers news on celebrities and fashion, reported that the runways for this years Fall Fashion Week in Milan were overwhelmingly white. Of thirty-seven runway shows, there 1,084 opportunities to send out a modeland black models walked 14 times.

What's really interesting is how many shows by big-name Italian designers had absolutely zero diversity, the report said.

That's an interesting statistic. Milan has always had a dearth of black models

This last season, Prada- infamously all white and very bland and considered the ringleader in the whiteout - used the black British model Jourdan Dunn, Givhan told BlackAmericaWeb.com.

I have no idea whether (Jezebel.coms statistic) is accurate and I would question how anyone came by it, Givhan continued. The mix of models changes all the time, so I'm wondering if that stat was based on the most recent shows? Is it an average from shows over the last five years? Ten years? Is it based solely on the women's collections or does it include the men as well? Are they looking at all shows or just the major ones? Do showroom presentations, where there is no catwalk but models are used, count? Is that number coming from an agent and is that agent low-balling because he wants to get more of his models hired?

I think it's fair to say there's a lack of representation on the runway in general, but that statistic, while it's shocking, is also extremely questionable.

Maiysha, the model and musician who lives in Brooklyn, knows firsthand how high fashion views black models. But she says its much easier to get jobs as a plus size model because they are usually hired to show off the middle rangeor cheaperclothing.

When you get into high fashionthe assumption is that the majority of their target market cant afford to buy what theyre selling, anyway, so they can choose whoever they want to model.

She has seen this issue of color come up every few years and has followed the discussion.

With this issue of Vogue, I had mixed feelings. I wanted to have it just for sake of having it. But I didnt know what to think. I have a problem getting work in France and Italy. They are just not feeling the need to get black models. I am on hold now to do a show for a client in Milan. If I get it I would be first black model to do it. They keep shying away. Its definitely disheartening.

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