Paris has long been seen as a haven for models of colour. A black model could find work in Paris when none was forthcoming in the US or the rest of Europe. It’s a visionary place, not weighed down with outdated views on race, religion, sexuality… right? With the rise of far right political movements and French citizens from former colonies in Africa and the Caribbean often being marginalised and profiled, we want to know what it is really like to be a model of colour in France. Here, ten black and North African male models from France give their side of the story.
Styling by Edem Dossou assisted by Christian Boua and Kenny Germé
Special thanks to Jacques Shu @ De Fursac
Yassine wears tuxedo – Faith Connexion. Shirt, bowtie and cufflinks – De Fursac. Cummerbund – Paul Smith (vintage). Sneakers – Nike.
On how we got his start.
I actually got discovered on the streets of Paris. Brice Compagnon, who is a casting director and the director of WAD Magazine, approached me and we’ve been friends since that day.
Working with the masters.
At the beginning of my career, I walked for Yohji Yamamoto, which was an amazing experience for me. After that, several Vogue shootings followed. I shot with Steven Meisel, which was an honour, and I also walked for Tom Ford last year.
I had many amazing opportunities in the past year, I don’t feel like one was better than the other. I really enjoy working with creative minds and artists like Steven Meisel. I would describe my career as a ladder and I appreciate every step of it on my way to the top.
On being a man of North African origin in the fashion world.
Everybody who works in the fashion industry knows that being a male model of African origins can be a struggle – but I’m still making it :)
Under the surface.
What most people don’t know about me is that I’m a graphic designer. I’m very interested in visual graphics and the process to get there. What I like best about modelling is meeting new people and working with creative minds. It’s very fascinating to me, since I have a special position as a model. I observe everything around me.
Never doubt yourself and follow your intuition.
Jason wears shirt – Faith Connexion. Trousers and bowtie – De Fursac.
I was discovered on social networks by John-Paul Pietrus, a photographer at 7th Man Magazine. At that time, I was still in French Guiana. He thought I had something different, and that I could be a model. He then introduced me to SUPA London and IMG New York. I signed then with Rock Men Paris and here I am today, after a year.
Being black in France.
People ask me all the time: ‘What are your origins?’. Here in France, people have not yet grasped that there are French people of different skin colours. I want to answer that I am French, period. And I am proud of this diversity.
Being black in French fashion.
To be honest, I never felt the fact of being black could prevent me from doing things in fashion. French black models would like to see more blacks on the catwalks or elsewhere. Today the only brands on the French scene that expose us black models are Balmain, Louis Vuitton and Givenchy. Even if it is difficult, I hope that soon things will change. Even if one does not become Tyson Beckford or Naomi Campbell, there is hope.
What lies in his future.
My passion is definitely cinema. I always dreamt of becoming an actor. And I have this other dream to become one day an Unicef ambassador. I have done humanitarian work since the age of 14.
Breakthrough and champions.
I walked for Vivienne Westwood for the first time in Milan. When I came back to them in Paris right after, I was like Mandela back to the old country :)
Since then I walked for Vivienne Westwood’s women shows. Their team is like family to me.
My career is well-filled. I have worked with great names and great brands. I have made it to the biggest fashion magazines, like Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel Hommes, Wonderland, Lui Magazine, Citizen K many times. But I always want more, just like 50 Cent.
Difference and indifference.
How to say… I know people want to work with me because I have a few things different from the other models. But when I go to castings for certain brands I already know it’s a dead loss, we know the standard and the atmosphere of the brand [isn’t receptive to models of colour]. In any case, a big thank you to all the teams I’ve worked with, they know the real thing.
How can men of North African origin be better represented?
By confirming them on jobs instead of releasing the options.
The best part of modelling.
The encounters. I’ve met wonderful people from all backgrounds, I like to know how people got to where they are. Some have become almost brothers, even if we only see each other during fashion week. And the hotels… I like to be alone in the big ones to think about the past.
Boxing. I started young. Where I come from, it’s almost a necessity. I love cars, especially the big German brands, my Instagram is full of that. I bought an Audi A5 2.7 in cash with my first paycheck. Everyone respects big cars. And my other passion is to eat, haha. I love junk food, whether it’s in the morning, at noon, or in the evening. I enjoy it now, before I get ugly and fat.
I just finished the book by Dupond-Moretti, a lawyer who talks about his legal cases that marked his career. Very interesting. And I began Oscar Wilde, with all his quotes collected in a book. It’s as strong as Eminem.
Bakay wears jacket, shirt & bowtie – De Fursac. Trousers – Louis Vuitton. Belt – Faith Connexion. Ear jewellery – KTZ. Rings and earrings – Diana Law.
His career so far.
I became model after doing an open call casting at my agency, because at this time all my friends told me I should do it. I wasn’t particularly interested back then, but one day I still thought I should give it a try. And here I am today.
I’m proud of my career because I have the opportunity to work with amazing people. It’s been a very good experience, and I’ve gotten to meet lots of great people. I’ve done a lot of crazy fashion shows too.
The future of France.
I wanted Emmanuel Macron to win, of course!
And I hope for more serenity in France. More love, stop the police shootings, stop racism.
I listen to African music. I like Sidiki Diabaté. I also listen to US rap (Drake, Young Thug, Travis Scott, etc.) and French rap too. I like Sia.
Sid wears tuxedo and shirt – Faith Connexion. Waistcoat and bowtie – De Fursac.
My family has been living here for several generations, so France feels like home and it is my home!
North African men need to be more represented in the French media to change the preconceived ideas that racist people have. They only watch TV, and they associate France’s problems with the people from North Africa.
He’s new. What does he expect from fashion?
Meeting new people and living new experiences.
What he wants for France’s future.
I hope for a non-submissive France.
Right now I’m listening to the last album of Kendrick Lamar and reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
Max wears tuxedo – Tommy Hilfiger. Shirt – De Fursac. Coat – Cerruti 1881. Shoes and bow-tie – Louis Vuitton. Cummerbund – Paul Smith (vintage). Earrings – Diana Law.
Being mixed race in fashion and in France.
I will say that it’s something that people are reminding you of all the time. But I don’t think it is really making any difference. The colour is not really important, it’s more the person that you really are and who you want to be that matters.
How he became a model.
I was selling ice creams while I was living in Nice and a French photographer asked me if I was a model and if I would like to do a photo shoot with him. I accepted and after this he sent my pictures to some agencies in Paris and I started working first without any agencies and then with Elite Paris.
I am currently reading Bel Ami from Guy de Maupassant. I already know the story but I love it! And I listen to the new Kendrick Lamar album that is amazing.
I don’t have any advice for models or for people. But I think it’s important to live the moment and to enjoy this work. Coolness is the key!
How black men can be better represented.
Things are moving faster for black people, with the popularity of street culture and the black power [movement] in US. It’s a good thing that stereotypes are less and less present in our society concerning black people and it’s important it continues that way.
His hopes for the future of France.
Honestly 2016 was quite awful for French people, I think. So I can only hope that 2017 is going to be more kind to us, and as far as I’m concerned I am trying to be optimistic.
Aliou wears tuxedo – Louis Vuitton. Shirt, shoes and bow-tie – De Fursac.
His career thus far.
I was randomly scouted in the RER, at Gare du Nord, about a year ago. It was unexpected! I was lucky to start with an amazing first season between London, Milan and Paris. I walked for Coach, Prada, Burberry and Dior, among others.
On being black in fashion.
It has never bothered me to be a black man in the fashion industry. I even think that it helps me, as there is still not much competition. But I am happy to see that it is changing more and more!
It’s not all bad!
I do not think black men are not well represented. I’m seeing more and more black models in shows, magazines, etc. As long as we are seen like the other models, I’m fine with it!
The future is bright.
Emmanuel Macron is our new president! I feel relieved about the future of France.
Florian wears tuxedo jacket – Faith Connexion. Shirt, trousers, waistcoat, scarf and shoes – De Fursac.
I walked for Givenchy in my first season. Before starting modelling many people kept telling me I should walk for Givenchy, so it kind of became a personal goal for me.
The colour code.
First of all, I would like to say that I’ve never questioned my skin colour and never felt it was a problem in the fashion industry or anywhere else. The only problem, and it’s a big one, is the people questioning skin colour.
Of course there’s been a lot of progress regarding the chances given to people of colour in the fashion industry. But I think there’s still a long way to go before I could honestly say that it offers as many opportunities to models of colour as white models.
When it comes to France, I don’t work so much here. Maybe that answers the question, haha.
The way I see it, black men are too often negatively represented by the media. Most of the time they are associated with drugs and crime. And when they are positively represented it’s mostly for sports or musical performances or for being funny, which is good but not enough compared to reality. I would like to hear more about successful black men in fields such as education, science, philosophy, business… I would like to see more black role models in movies and other media.
Especially because young people are more likely to believe and reproduce what they see in the media. I don’t want my younger brother to reproduce those misrepresentations or to have lower self-esteem because of how his ethnicity is represented by the media. And I don’t want people to see me as a threat because of it.
What I’m trying to say is that there should be a more balanced representation of black men. Focus on all the beautiful things that they have to bring to the table other than just sports and music.
One hope, one quest.
I hope that we learn how to live all together with respect. I hope that we learn to be more curious and less afraid of our differences. I hope that we stop being indifferent to injustice. I hope we learn how to give more hope to the younger generations. I hope (and I’m confident) my hopes will come true!
My favourite hobby consists of finding new spots to eat.
I used to play a lot of basketball and I have been a Lebron James fan since day one, so watching him play is one of my passions. I also love sharing music with people. My sister is working for a charity called «creaquartier» which organises events for youth in Paris and I love playing the DJ for them whenever I can. By the way, if you are interested you can follow them on Instagram or Facebook: @creaquartier.
To models of all skin colours: Stay humble, be patient, respect yourself and the others. And above all, believe in yourself!
The story so far.
Many people approached me in the street to suggest I do modelling. Then I was scouted on Instagram by a model agent. My career so far is rather smooth. I often have interesting jobs for Asos and Zalando, and I did editorials for Fucking Young Magazine, Citizen K, Vanity Teen… I don’t think I have had a particular breakthrough yet. But I learn from every new job, like this campaign I did in Korea.
Part of a small club.
I think that being of North African origin in the fashion world is an asset, because there are not many and it brings something different to the industry.
What I like about modelling is the opportunity it gives me to meet people who are different from the ones I usually see.
How it all began.
I started modelling thanks to my hairdresser, who suggested I do a casting for a fashion show. Thanks to that, I had the chance to meet a photographer named Jean-Luc Dupont, who did my very first photo shoot. After the shoot, which was great, he suggested I go see several model agencies. Success was one of them, and now they take good care of me.
I opened the Givenchy show last January. It’s pretty amazing to be able to meet such talented people. As a child, I never thought such things would happen to me, especially after arriving in France.
What he adds to fashion.
I think that models of North African origin have a lot of character and charisma, and lots of young people can identify with this. The big fashion labels have come to realise that it also gives them more credibility towards the young generation to use models with different ethnic backgrounds.
His hope for the future of France.
That people realise ethnic diversity is a chance and not a problem.