From The Chiffon Trenches by André Leon Tally about this “Scarlett ‘N the Hood” photo shoot he created in 1996 as the style editor for Vanity Fair:
“One winter night in Paris, 1996, Karl [Lagerfeld] and I were talking about the current wave of big hoop skirts on the couture runways, which had been started by Galliano but found its roots in the nineteenth century. The inspiration of Scarlett O’Hara was clearly being splayed across the Paris runways. Stories in Vanity Fair were supposed to relate to Hollywood or something iconic in the minds of artists and cultural critics, and I started to think about using Gone with the Wind as a possible reference point. It is an entertaining film but not one of my favorites. For obvious reasons.
“I’ve seen the movie many times and can appreciate the scope and scale of the costumes, the grandeur, the rich, saturated colors. But seriously, can anyone who is black and in their right frame of mind enjoy this film? The answer is no. The one great thing about it is that Hattie McDaniel, in her brilliant supporting role, became the first African American to be nominated for and win an Oscar.
“If I were going to draw inspiration from Gone with the Wind, it would have to be in a way I’d be comfortable with. And then it hit me:
“Let’s do an updated Gone with the Wind and have Naomi as Scarlett.
‘Scarlett in the Hood!’
“Karl loved it, and we immediately began to plan out our shoots, using his appropriately grandiose interior décor. We would cast fashion’s heavyweights to play the servants: [John] Galliano, the star of couture, was cast as a house servant, mopping floors.
“Manolo Blahnik, the Bernini of shoes, as a gardener, and barefoot! Gianfranco Ferré, then running Christian Dior, would be Hattie McDaniel, in white shirt, custom-made piqué apron, and head scarf.
“Naomi Campbell was posed, running up and down staircases, having dinner parties, in haute couture by Dior and Givenchy, an enormous vintage articulated diamond Cartier snake necklace, and the most expensive evening gown Karl Lagerfeld had ever designed for Chanel, costing over $200,000. Naomi played the role with such ease and joy, it almost made you forget the reality. If we were being historically accurate, a black woman would never have been able to play a grandiose grande dame of the nineteenth century. Lost in fantasy, that’s what it’s all about. I wanted people to think: What if?
“Naomi Campbell as Scarlett O’Hara saunters down the grand staircase in strapless haute couture, spring 1996 Givenchy, from John Galliano’s first ever couture collection in Paris. Graydon Carter dared to trust me and let us create the story for Vanity Fair on our own.
“Those images mean something totally different today than they did back in 1996 when they were shot. Fashion shows were exceedingly blond at the time. Designers would say they couldn’t find anyone of color who looked right for their show, which was just hard to believe. Pushing back in such a subversive way felt bold and daring. Again, it was a quiet form of activism.
“My way of approaching diversity in the world of fashion was to communicate with the power of suggestion. I would not go up to Karl Lagerfeld and say, ‘Where are the black models on your runway?’ Instead, if I didn’t see a moment of diversity, I would sit next to him and recommend girls who were missing. ‘What about Naomi Campbell, wouldn’t she look great in that suit?’
“I never demanded representation and diversity of models; I finessed.”