Deddeh Howard, a Liberia-born, L.A.-based model and blogger, was fed up with seeing fashion campaigns feature so few models of color. So, with the help of her photographer boyfriend Raffael Dickreuter, she re-created major campaigns from brands like Chanel and Gucci fronted by Gisele Bündchen, Gigi Hadid, Kate Moss, and more. She took three months to put it together, making sure photos would look as close to identical as possible from the clothes and accessories to the poses and expressions on her face.
Howard, 27, titled the project Black Mirror and launched it on her blog Tuesday with a call for more inclusivity in the fashion industry. "In a time where Black people too often are in the media for being underrepresented at important events such as the Oscars or make headlines for being targeted by the police I felt it was time to do something positive and inspiring about my race," she writes. "I'm personally fighting for more diversity."
Howard has been modeling since she was 18 years old and says being rejected for opportunities because of her skin color "crushed" her at that young age. "To be told that there were only one or two Black girls like Naomi [Campbell] and Iman to represent me, it was just very damaging to my image. I always felt like I didn't fit in or like the white girl was more beautiful than I am," she recalls. "It just really affected my self-esteem growing up."
She says oftentimes brands wouldn't cast her because they had already fulfilled some unwritten quota on black models. "My frustration was: Are you serious? Do you think that one girl can represent me? Are you telling me that this girl looks like me?" Howard says. "What really frustrated me was the look that they gave me. They looked me in the eyes and told me, 'Wow you're striking and beautiful and we totally think you can walk, but we have someone black already.'"
"You have 100 white girls but you only have two or three black girls—and you're turning me down because of that? It's such a shame that they try to cast a couple and are like, 'This girl represents everybody,'" Howard says. "Like Victoria's Secret—they cast the same black girl and they use her all the time. Do you not believe another girl can do the same thing she's doing?"
Howard chose brands she likes personally and models she looks up to, like Kate Moss and Candice Swanepoel. "We wanted to show the world that whatever she can do, I can do the exact same thing," she says. "The way she curves her body, I can curve my body the exact same way—if you need a sexy, diverse model, there is a sexy, diverse model. You just need to include her."
As for aspiring models of color, Howard offers this advice: "Never give up. Keep trying like I did. I want them to know that they have a chance and I hope after this, someone can see a [black model] and give them a chance. I want them to stand up for themselves, speak up, and not shy away."