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Malaika Firth Prada campaign
Malaika Firth in the Prada AW14 campaign

This legendary model agent thinks diversity isn't improving

Premier founder (and Malaika Firth's agent) Carole White explains why black girls are still a rare occurrence on the runway

It feels like runway diversity has been on the fashion agenda for years. But every season, we see the same number of black models in fashion shows, and Vogue Italia's groundbreaking black-models-only issue in 2008 feels a very long way away. In an interview with Dazed, model agent and Premier agency founder Carole White says that the problem hasn't improved, either. 

"I don’t think diversity has got much better over the years," she says. "You can get a white girl going in maybe a month, two months, a black girl it can take six to twelve."

So why do black models' careers take longer to get going? "It’s much more difficult to get a test photographer to shoot them, probably because they don’t know how to light their skin, maybe the make-up artist has never been taught how to get the make-up right," White explains. "Until the girl has a cult following it’s hard work, very, very hard work for her and for us."

It's a problem that doesn't just afflict black models. In a feature on the aesthetic politics of filming black skinWashington Post movie critic Ann Hornady writes that black actors face the exact same challenge: white filmmakers just didn't know how to light black skin. In some cases, the technology itself wasn't even sensitive enough to capture the full variety of darker skin tones. 

But there are some happy endings to this sorry tale, too. Models like Malaika FirthJourdan Dunn and Winnie Harlow are breaking down barriers with their work; in 2013, Firth became the first black model to land a Prada campaign since Naomi Campbell in 1994, while Dunn is now one of the most highly-paid models in the industry. Dazed 100 star Harlow, who has vitiligo, is one more black model shaking up beauty conventions in a white-dominated industry.

"When Malaika got the Prada campaign, that was an amazing moment," White says. "We got her thanks to the programme [Premier documentary The Model Agency]. Her mum and her were watching it, and they rang me the morning after the first one aired and I said yeah, bring her in! She’s the cutest little thing, we are really proud."

Read our full interview with Carole White here.