Clockwise from top left: Kelly Gale, Cindy Bruna, Malaika Firth, Jourdan Dunn, Maria Borges.
Discrimination against black models has been an explosive issue in the fashion world this year, but few people expected to see Victoria’s Secret at the forefront of change when it comes to diversity in casting.
As unlikely as this might have seemed a few years ago, the lingerie retailer is expected to present the most racially diverse catwalk of the season when the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is taped tomorrow in New York.
With numerous departures from last year’s cast, this is a rebuilding year for the show, and up to 14 newcomers are expected among the 40 or so models who will hit the runway. Included in that number will be 7 or 8 black or bi-racial models, including some of the modeling world’s youngest and most promising faces.
It’s a dramatic, even historic, shift for the lingerie brand, which lost its only black supermodel Angel when Chanel Iman left the company earlier this year. Victoria’s Secret has had high-profile black models in the past, including Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell and Selita Ebanks, but has been criticized in recent years for the perceived lack of diversity on its large modeling team.
Many women in the exotic 2013 VSFS lineup have mixed heritage, with extraordinary family histories and roots in some of Africa’s most troubled and war-torn nations. And the buzz on social media in recent weeks, as details of the cast leaked out, has been deafening.
The eagerly-anticipated crop of newcomers is expected to include:
- Malaika Firth, 19; the stunning UK native has family roots in Kenya, Uganda and the Seychelles, and made headlines this year after being chosen Prada‘s first black model in almost 20 years.
- Cindy Bruna, 19; born in France to a Congolese mother and Italian father, she previously modeled for Etam.
- Maria Borges, 20; the Angolan beauty grew up during her country’s civil war and is one of several young black models mentored by Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci. She was one of 6 black models who walked in the most recent runway show for Dior — long the target of critics for its typically all-white catwalks.
- Kelly Gale, 18: The super-pretty Swedish girl has Indian and Australian parents, and set the Twittersphere ablaze after her utterly charming showcase in the Victoria’s Secret casting video released last week.
- Jourdan Dunn, 23: Named model of the year by Harper’s Bazaar, the UK fan favorite ignited a controversy this year by speaking openly about the fashion community’s discrimination against women of color.
Tomorrow’s show will also include black models Joan Smalls from Puerto Rico (currently the world’s top-ranked model) and American Jasmine Tookes, both of whom walked in last year’s show.
NOTE: Victoria’s Secret hasn’t released an official cast list for the show, and the number and makeup of the cast typically remains fluid up until show time. The hour-long spectacle will air on CBS on Dec. 10.
Other casting notes from this year’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show:
- Expect VS to anoint at least one new Angel. Portuguese stunner Sara Sampaio (above), who has modeled several of the company’s catalogue collections, is expected to “get her wings” during the show. This is a big deal in the modeling world but it’s not exactly tenure: Chanel Iman got “winged” in 2010 but was gone two years later. It’s also worth noting that Sara is an absolute dead ringer for Adriana Lima, the company’s longest-serving Angel.
- Barring last-minute cast changes many high-profile fashion models and fan favorites, including several who have been VS stalwarts in past years, won’t be appearing. The reasons are many and often bizarre, including a surprising number of models who claimed on social media to be “too busy” to appear in the most-watched fashion show in the world. The MIA will likely include: Marloes Horst, Irina Shayk, Edita Vilkeciute, Barbara Palvin, Shanina Shaik, Anja Rubik, Lily Donaldson, Cara Delevigne, Dorothea Barth, Isabeli Fontana and Anne Vyalitsyna.
- Other models expected to make their VSFS debut this year: Devon Windsor, Jac Jagaciak, Josephine Skriver, Martha Hunt, Ming Xi, Sigrid Agren and possibly Regina Krilow and Kassia Struss.
- Fangirls and boys will be on the lookout for last-minute substitutions from a few first-timers whose casting has not been confirmed, but who are rumored to be on a list of stand-ins. Included in this list of Maybe Babies are: Sasha Luss, Daniela Braga, Jessica Strother, Romee Strijd, Lauren Layne, Mackenzie Drazan and Josephine Le Tutour.
- According to one New York newspaper, VS Angel Erin Heatherton was dumped by the company last month. But not so fast. All-American girl Erin is indeed walking the show, although her contract status as a continuing member of the Angels squad is unclear.
- Probably no model got more advance-show buzz than Carmen Carrera, who is not actually part of the show. The transgender model got 35,000 signatures and endless press after someone posted a petition on Change.org calling on Victoria’s Secret to make Carmen their first TG model. Carmen, who was a contestant on Ru Paul’s Drag Race, appears to have a busy modeling life. Victoria’s Secret didn’t comment on the petition.