Behind an influencer’s powerful campaign gone viral

When Los Angeles-based Liberia-born model Deddeh Howard grew frustrated with the lack of diversity in ad campaigns, rather than just whinging about it she set about to create change. A popular blogger and Instagram influencer, Deddeh decided to use her platforms to highlight the need for equal work opportunities for dark-skinned models.

Over a period of three months, Deddeh and photographer Raffael Dickreuter worked on the photo series titled Black Mirror with the two recreating photo shoots by the likes of Gucci, Victoria’s Secret, Chanel and Guess. The original campaigns captured ‘it’ models including Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and Kate Moss.

And it seems Deddeh’s campaign has struck a chord – with Black Mirror being featured in over 300 media outlets (and we’re not talking small fries here… Good Morning America, BBC, Elle, Huffington Post etc have all covered the campaign.) To find out a bit more about Black Mirror and what work went on behind-the-scenes to recreate each look, Husskie has a revealing exclusive chat with Deddeh.

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What was the inspiration behind the Black Mirror campaign?
When browsing through magazines, I always felt it was really rare that I would spot a girl that looked like me. All advertisements from all the the big brands seemed to look pretty much the same, which over time appeared more and more bizarre. We live in a diverse world and it would be great if the big brands gave inspiration to all of us out there. 

What were you looking to highlight with the campaign?
Let’s include people, not exclude. This is not an attack on white models, I just wish everybody got a shot to show what they can do and that’s what I tried to do on this project together with photographer Raffael Dickreuter. Let’s show the world what we can do and see what happens. I am not here to complain, I just want to show what is possible. If you are not chosen by an agency, just go and do it yourself and show the world what you can do.

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How long did it take to recreate each look?
The most time-consuming part was finding the right clothes, accessories and set pieces to recreate each look. A big challenge was also finding a rare 1939 motorcycle for the Guess shoot. Finding a matching location where the sun was in the right place to get the correct shadows took quite some time. Overall it took about three months to complete this project. We did this on a very small budget, going up against the biggest brands with huge budgets also proved to be a real challenge. We are proud to have pulled it off and shot this all in an apartment.

How did you choose which image you wanted to recreate?
We carefully researched which big brands never or rarely use black models. To our surprise it was so many of them that let us choose from a lot. In the end we chose images that showed different areas of the modeling industry, such as clothes, jewelry, sunglasses and others as well as shots that would work well overall as a project.

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Why is it important to have diversity in ad campaigns?
We are bombarded with advertisements, magazine images and TV ads on a daily basis. If we like it or not, they influence us and they influence what we think is beautiful. They also serve as role models and inspiration. If we see an ad that strikes us, it motivates us not only to go buy that product, but maybe also thrive to look more like that person. More importantly, it can create the belief in you that one day this could be you in such a campaign. If you are not represented, you feel excluded that should not be the case in a time of globalization and interracial couples. I hope we see more diversity and we are more united no matter what colour we have. Let’s unite no matter what colour.

Why do you think it is that we don’t see as many black models in advertising campaigns?
I am not sure, many reasons can be given. Some say it will not sell as well or maybe the big brands like a traditional look and stick with it for years. It would actually be great to hear the thoughts of the brands themselves on this one, so far I have not received feedback from any of them but I would gladly listen to what they have to say themselves.

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What have been some standout moments for black models?
There are moments, they are just few and far between. What Naomi Campbell, Iman or Tyra Banks achieved can stand out. Most recently Jasmine Tookes being a highlight at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show a week ago comes to mind as well. Let’s hope there will be more of them so we don’t have to worry about this issue any longer.

Did you expect your campaign to receive so much media attention?
Not at all. It seemed like a great challenge when we started. Photographer Raffael Dickreuter said: “We will put you head-to-head with the world’s biggest stars in fashion, you are one of the few that can pull this off and not look out of place” that was a scary thought. He believed I could do it and pull it off, I am glad he trusted me. I am proud that we pulled off images of a quality where we did not look out of place next to the brands with big budgets and famous stars in it. That it would it go viral around the world in 48 hours and be featured in so many countries and big publications is mind blowing. It seems to have touched many people and all we wanted is to do something positive.

Do you believe your stance will have a positive effect on the modelling industry?
There is a chance that nothing will change, but maybe it helps to get the discussion going. These changes usually take a long time. In the end, it will take a lot of people and influences to change things. I am positive we are moving in a good direction and looking forward to what opportunities will come along.

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All images Secret of DD website and @SecretofDD.

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