Joan Smalls Speaks Out About Fashion's Lack of Diversity

The Elle cover girl says “beauty is universal.”

Posted: 12/06/2013 04:30 PM EST
Joan Smalls, Elle cover

(Photo: ELLE Magazine, January 2014)

While she’s a regular in the world’s leading fashion magazines and a fixture on the catwalks, model Joan Smalls isn’t resting on her laurels. Instead, she’s using her influence to rally for the next generation of models of color, speaking frankly about fashion’s apparent diversity problem in the new issue of Elle.

"People hide behind the word aesthetic," the Puerto Rican beauty says, looking radiant in a gold halter gown by Givenchy on the cover, her first for the American edition. "They say, 'Well, it's just that designer's aesthetic.' But when you see 18 seasons in a row and not one single model outside a certain skin color…? There are people in the industry who are advocates, who support diversity. And there are people who do not. I don't get it. Beauty is universal. These doors have to open."

Reflecting back on her early days as a model breaking into the business, the 25-year-old says, "I came to New York with a dream. I came to do what I saw girls doing in campaigns, in editorials — great things, challenging things."

By all accounts, she’s achieved that dream tenfold, with Estee Lauder's Richard Ferretti telling the magazine, “The word supermodel is overused, but if there is any woman of our generation who deserves the title, it’s Joan. She has the perfect face.”

The January 2014 issue of Elle hits newsstands on December 17. If the wait proves too long, you can catch Ms. Smalls gliding down the runway at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, airing Dec. 10 on CBS.


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