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Race row over Brazil fashion week

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Race row over Brazil fashion week

By Gary Duffy

BBC News, Sao Paulo

Models on the catwalk at Sao Paolo Fashion Week

Brazil fashion week

All the glamour and style you would expect from an international catwalk was clearly on show at Sao Paulo Fashion Week.

It seems firmly established in the fashion calendar, and dozens of photographers were there to compete for the best images that will feature in magazines here and abroad.

But even though Brazil is one of the most multi-coloured nations in the world, the vast majority of the models taking part here are white, almost European in appearance.

Brazil has more people of African descent than any country outside of Africa, half the population is said to be either black or mixed race, and the absence of black models on Brazilian catwalks is an issue that has been raised by some influential voices.

The British stylist Judy Blame, and Michael Roberts, the Editor of Vanity Fair, have both been reported as voicing their concern and surprise after visits to Brazil.

Style does not have colour, Blame is said to have remarked.

'No access'

Black models outside Sao Paolo Fashion Week

Rafaela (right) says the business is smaller for black models

And outside the landmark Bienal building - where Sao Paulo Fashion Week is being staged - young black models voiced their frustration.

"I think the business is smaller for black girls," says 19-year-old Rafaela Favero. "But I don't know if it is because we are just black - but we are different, our pattern of beauty is different - our hair and our bodies."

"In a fashion show it is practically impossible," says 24-year-old Rafael Milagres.

"You have to have luck, and someone that suggests your name. Because nowadays to do a fashion show you have to be in an agency with a majority of white people, as is the case with most agencies in Brazil, while just 2% of models are black."

The owner of one agency that promotes the work of black models says slavery may have been abolished long ago in Brazil but the shadow is lengthy.

"It is like abolition never existed. It is a facade and the history continues," Helder Dias told the BBC News website.

"The black models can't get jobs and have no access, don't have a good distribution of money or earnings and live in a sub-world, because there are no job opportunities."

'Ethnically mixed'

Dudu Bertholini

Dudu Bertholini insists beauty and talent matter more than colour

Leading Brazilian designers say there is no deliberate intent to exclude black models and they insist the fashion world only reflects wider society.

"Brazil is a very ethnically mixed country," says designer Fause Haten. "We have many black people, many Japanese. In reality Brazil is made of this mixture, which also appears in our catwalks."

Dudu Bertholini, designer for Cori, whose show on the first day involved no black models, was adamant: "If the models are good, it doesn't matter if they are black or white."

"I don't say no to black models, I love black models. I didn't wear because I didn't feel like wearing, not because I have any prejudice in wearing black models."

I asked him about claims from black models that they found it hard to get work at shows like Sao Paulo Fashion Week.

"They do? Are they good models? Are they beautiful? Are they tall? Are they good enough?" he asked.

Increasing diversity among people in modern life was a key theme for this week's Sao Paulo Fashion Week, but it often seemed the most visible black faces were those working away from the glamour of the catwalk.

Fashion journalist Erika Palomino had harsh words for the world of fashion.

'Reflecting society'

Helder Dias

Helder Dias says black models have difficulty getting jobs

"Sometimes people in the fashion industry can be very, very dumb, they can be very conservative and sometimes they get things very late," she says.

"I guess it would be wonderful to have black models."

But the man behind Sao Paulo Fashion Week thinks the scarcity of black models reflects wider problems in Brazilian society.

"I think this reflects Brazil's social exclusion," says Paulo Borges. "I think fashion works with a wide range of profiles and a wide range of aesthetic qualities."

"There are several black models who do shows, and there aren't more because I believe the history of the black race in Brazil is still about having little access."

There seems little doubt that the major fashion weeks here have brought some distinctive Brazilian flair and excitement to the industry.

But it appears those who want to see the public face of fashion here truly reflect the diversity of this society may have to wait some time.


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