May 21, 2010

Article | Nude: Is The Hot Fashion Color Racist?

I found this article so interesting - it's about the fashion industry's use of the word 'nude' to describe a specific color, which begs the question - "Nude? For whom?" especially for those of us with darker skin colors. I read the article, then google searched 'nude dress' - and, alas! All were 'light skinned' models wearing this popular 'nude' color.. hmm.. haha, anyways, here's a delightful lil inquiry into the latest fads (click the link to read the entire article, this is a shortened version):

Nude: Is The Hot Fashion Colour Racist?
Nude is the fashion colour du jour. But it's only nude if you're white, not if you're black.
By Paula Cocozza for,
Thursday 20 May 2010 20.59 BST

(Michelle Obama, Nicola Roberts, Naomi Watts, Gemma Arterton, Demi Moore and Herm├Ęs. Photograph: Composite)

Michelle Obama must be used to causing a stir with her frocks. But she could not have known when she chose a floorlength gown in a lovely shade of – well, let's just pass over that for the moment – to meet the Indian prime minister last November, the furore that would follow. The dress was described by its designer Naeem Khan as a "sterling-silver sequin, abstract floral, nude strapless gown". Associated Press said it was "flesh-coloured", the colour of Obama's own flesh notwithstanding. Now AP appears to have revised that description to "champagne", an act that has triggered debate about fashion's use of the word "nude". "Nude? For whom?" asks Jezebel magazine.

The problem is that the language of fashion has form in this regard. Beading, fringing and animal prints are routinely offered as evidence of a "tribal" trend (though that is a word Candy says she crosses out whenever she sees it). Last October, a month before Obama stepped out in her dress, model Lara Stone appeared blacked up in French Vogue. Black models, meanwhile, are few and far between on catwalks and covers. And even when fashion editors find synonyms for "nude" they are conventionally honey, rose, blush, ivory, words commonly used to make an English rose complexion seem aspirational. There is nothing new in all this, of course: remember American Tan tights, and their promise to bring a healthy glow to all those "American" (read pale) legs?

But it isn't just the description of a colour that is potentially offensive here, it's also the way the look is styled, the conception of the entire trend. On the cover of May's InStyle, actor Gemma Arterton appears in a frock so close to her skin tone that it seems to seep into her chest and shoulders, the two adjacent pallors of flesh and dress somehow bleaching each other out, lightening further the overall look. On the catwalks in Paris, Milan, London and New York, these pale shades were presented almost uniformly on pale skins. It's a look that's all about white skin.

"Obama looks amazing," says Reina Lewis, professor of cultural studies at the London College of Fashion. "It's a fabulous dress. But on her skin 'nude' is revealed as a colour rather than neutral."

Indeed it seems misplaced to think of these shades as neutral, when the debate makes clear that this trend is anything but. Pantone, the world-renowned authority on colour, may have a "nude" shade, thereby conferring a certain official acceptability on all those magazines' usage of the term. But then another N-word was once commonly used in clothes catalogues to describe a chocolatey shade of brown. (Yes, THAT N-word.) Will "nude" one day strike us as equally horrifying?