Italian magazine strikes stylish blow for "black power"

She insists racism has nothing to do with it, but admits the world of fashion has a predilection for Eastern European models with their "blonde hair and long legs."

"Of course they are very beautiful, but they also kind of look all alike," said Franca Sozzani, editor of the magazine, Vogue Italia.

During her 20 years in charge of style-bible Vogue's Italian edition, Sozzani has earned a reputation for a culture-savvy take on cutting-edge elegance.

In the past, Vogue Italia has focused on topics the fashion industry, it would seem, prefers to ignore, including the growing use of plastic surgery.

Few however, were prepared for Sozzani's most audacious move to date: the July 2008 issue of her magazine which features a cast exclusively made up of black models, including actors and music industry stars.

The idea, Sozzani told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa in a recent interview, first took shape a year ago during a conversation with supermodel Naomi Campbell, one of the few non-white models who has managed to emerge and dominate the catwalk over the last decade.

"Then I was in the US for Super Tuesday," she said, referring to the Democratic Party presidential primary showdown in February.

The event catapulted black candidate Barack Obama ahead of the then favourite, Hillary Clinton, and into the spot of top contender.

"We saw something was changing, so we said: why don't we try to do the same?" Sozzani explained.

Stressing however, that US politics was not the only source of inspiration, she added: "There was also the wish to offer space to another type of beauty."

Back in Milan, Sozzani set about transforming her American dream into reality with the help of celebrity photographer Steven Meisel, known for his work with Madonna in the 1992 book "Sex".

Established supermodels including Alek Wek, Iman, Tyra Banks and Campbell were chosen, along with emerging faces like Jourdan Dunn.

Their images and those of others grace the 170 pages of the magazine which goes on sale next week in Italy and abroad.

Still, while American voters may be ready for a black president, are magazine buyers in Italy, or elsewhere for that matter, drawn, to pictures of non-white models?

British-born Campbell, a former girlfriend of Italian Formula One manager Flavio Briatore, enjoys diva-like status in Italy, but in Milan as in New York, London and Paris, black models a rarely seen on the catwalk. They are rarer still on magazine covers.

A long-held view in marketing circles is that advertising agency clients are reluctant to associate their products with non-white models for fear of alienating affluent consumers in the West.

Campbell has been vocal in claiming that black models face growing discrimination.

In 2007 she repeatedly accused the British edition of Vogue of subscribing to the view that non-white models don't sell, and revealed that she made the cover of French Vogue, only after the late designer Yves Saint Laurent had threatened to break off relations with the magazine unless it featured her.

"A precise choice like this one always has its risks," Sozzano told dpa of her decision to publish Vogue Italia's "all-black" issue.

"People can like it or they can hate it. I personally think they will like it ... Obama's 'wave' has also been felt over here.", dpa reported.

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