Arlenis Sosa Peña has always been one of my favourite models but despite making it big early on in her career (she's a spokesperson for Lancome), she's been noticeably absent from the shows and magazines recently. But it looks like that's all changing because this month she marked her return with this editorial for Harper's Bazaar Mexico.
In the story, Arlenis sports the bright prints that have been making the rounds this season from the likes of Preen and Mary Katrantzou styled by Andrew Holden and shot by Kevin Sinclair.
Things have changed dramatically, but we still have a ways to go. Years ago, if you looked at an agency's roster, maybe 2 percent was black and 1 percent was Asian. I am not faulting the agencies, though; if there was demand, there would have been more. Today, if you open up the newest issue of Vogue, you'll see Joan Smalls, Liu Wen, and Arlenis Sosa representing the most prestigious beauty brands in the business. The challenge for fashion brands is to understand what is considered "cool" in Tokyo, as that’s different than London or Austin, Texas. We have to piece together an inclusive casting of people, but stay on point with the message of the brand. Now, as casting directors, we have to cast our nets further by traveling ourselves or using social media to find that tattooed skater boy who is just as likely to come from Singapore as he is from Bushwick.
Back in November, American Vogue did a similar shoot called 'Asia Major' championing the top Asian models in the business, but are such attempts merely a gimmick, or is it actually a positive step forward? Without sounding cynical, was the American Vogue editorial simply an attempt to appeal to the one international market relatively unaffected by the economic crisis, rather than an being an attempt to diversify the representation of models in the magazine?
In August we reported that the tide was slowly turning as the use of black and ethnic minority models had increased in advertising campaigns and on the runway. The meteoric rise of Jourdan Dunn was hailed as the beginning of a future in which, there would be an equal presence of black and white models in the industry.
Some would argue that progress was made by Italian Vogue with its all black issue last July and i-D Magazine's September Issue which featured Jourdan Dunn, Sessilee Lopez, Chanel Iman and Arlenis Sosa on the cover as well as in a multi page editorial. Nathan Jenden, the brains behind the label by the same name and creative director of Diane Von Furstenberg has also sought to tackle this issue by sending only models of colour down his runway during LFW last week. PPQ also followed suit. One can only hope that such a positive stand will be an inspiration to others or at least result in more media attention to the debate.
The latest issue of i-D features four models of colour (Chanel Iman, Arlenis Sosa, Jourdan Dunn and Sessilee Lopez), and Bethann Hardison says that's a step in the right direction. This week, the model agent hosted Paradigm Shift, an informal meet-and-greet for models and casting directors to discuss how to make that more of a norm.
“It was important that we set the wheels in motion in the spirit of things,” Hardison told Modelinia. “Paradigm shifts are about taking a leap and making change. And making permanent change, but you have to work at it.”
Models like Tyson Beckford and Damaris Lewis showed up to the event, along with casting directors including Anita Bitton and James Scully. Hardison must have gotten really wrapped up - she even broke her fast for Ramadan that night.
As if you didn't love them enough, have a look at this behind-the-scenes clip of Chanel Iman, Jourdan Dunn, Sessilee Lopez and Arlenis Sosa Pena on their ground breaking cover shoot for the September issue of i-D.