Top model Gisele Bundchen and Madonna's "toyboy" Jesus Luz opened Brazil's top fashion show this week, but the focus was just as much on race as the racy summerwear and celebrities on parade.
For the first time, the Sao Paulo Fashion Week, Latin America's pre-eminent fashion event, has imposed quotas requiring at least 10 percent of the models to be black or indigenous.
AdvertisementThe measure was brought in after intense pressure from anti-racism groups and Brazilian prosecutors who blasted the SPFW's longstanding bias towards white models.
Previously, only a handful of black models featured among the 350 or so that sashayed down the catwalk -- usually less than three percent, far from representative in a country where nearly 50 percent of the population is of African descent.
A group of 30 black models holding an informal "Fashion Black" runway show in front of the SPFW venue applauded the boost the quota was expected to give to their careers.
"There shouldn't only be whites in the Fashion Week. There should be more blacks, to show black culture, show the black beauty in society," Caroline Naiara, 16, told AFP.
Beside her, Charles Junior, a male model, added that the quota "will give more opportunities, because we blacks currently have to leave the country to do our job."
The organizer of the impromptu show, Andre de Souza, said he backed the quota, but only as a first step towards what should be full inclusion of blacks in Brazil's fashion industry.
"We think 10 percent is very little. And there shouldn't have to be quotas for black models. We want more to see black producers, black stylists, people who work in fashion generally, to be more a part of the market," he said.
He and the black models said the preponderance of whites in the SPFW was symptomatic of a wider discrimination in Brazil against blacks born of its slavery past.
Backstage in the SPFW, several of the 40 fashion companies taking part were happy to show off the one or two black models being prepared for their runway sorties.
A few employees, though, said quietly, and well away from reporters' microphones, that the measure did not take into account that the European-inspired fashions were created for thin white bodies, not more rounded and chesty black physiques.
They also said that very few blacks bought their wares, a situation that pointed up the vast income gap between the predominantly black poorer half of Brazil and the predominantly white middle- and upper-class.
The June 17-22 SPFW was being presented under a French-inspired "Passion for Fashion" theme that also showcased displays of French haute-couture, part of a months-long cultural program celebrating the Year of France in Brazil.
Bikinis and ultra-lightweight summerwear was being rolled out for the 2009/2010 season.
Bundchen, one of the world's top supermodels, led the mode march.
She starred in a show by the fashion house Colcci with Luz, a formerly unknown male model who has become a mini-celebrity in Brazil thanks to a fling with Madonna.
The 22-year-old guy from Rio has seen his career, and runway pay, skyrocket after being photographed late last year kissing the US pop star after a Brazilian concert she gave.
But he has denied any deeper relationship with the 50-year-old Material Girl, saying they "are friends" and nothing more despite being spotted accompanying her a couple of times in recent months.