Christy Turlington’s inclusion in this fall’s Prada campaign is the main focus of a Women’s Wear Daily story on the new ads — but forgive us if we think the venerable trade magazine is guilty in this instance of burying the lead. The real news here is that, for the first time since the fall of 1994, there’s a black face of Prada.
The black model in the campaign, one of seven models who appears in the new ads, goes unnamed in WWD’s story. She is Malaika Firth, a Kenyan-born, U.K.-raised, biracial 19-year-old who has been modeling since 2011. Firth was a newborn in diapers the last time a black woman was a face of Prada. Prada’s fall ads also include the Chinese model Fei Fei Sun.
The move is significant because Prada rarely hires Asian models and practically never hires black models. The last black face of Prada was Naomi Campbell in 1994; between 1993 when Campbell walked, and 2008 when it was Jourdan Dunn’s turn, Prada had no black models in its women’s runway shows.
Since Dunn’s trip down the catwalk, Prada has gone back to hiring mostly white casts for its women’s shows, sometimes with an Asian model or two in the lineup, and sometimes with one black model. Prada cast its first black male model in 2010.
The fashion industry as a whole has a number of problems with race — whether it’s the under-representation of models of color on the world’s biggest runways, or the spate of ignorant but widely copied trends, like blackface references in editorials.
Perhaps no single brand has embodied near-total whiteness more than Prada. What made the company finally hire a black model for its seasonal ad campaign? Prada isn’t saying. Let’s hope it won’t be 19 years before we see another.