“Almost always,

the creative dedicated minority

has made the world better.”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.


(NY) What it’s like to be an Asian in America? How it feels to be a minority in a “free” society which promises freedom of race, sexual orientation, religion, politics, and opinions.  Isn’t it surprising that in the modern civilization, in a year like 2010, there is no african-american equivalent of a great american ‘white’ designer or even a great american ‘white’ photographer? Why fashion photography are astonishingly dominated by white men for centuries?

The white majority has always the control over the opinions, voice and foundations of the fashion industry for more than a century in America and the rest of the world.

Vogue US magazine, sadly, has been one of that foundations, it claims to be the ‘fashion bible of the world’, reaching out to the international markets including the two biggest populations in the world, China (19.5% of world population) and India (17.3%) compared to US (4.52%). The possibility that Vogue US magazine’s biggest consumers are non-whites, europeans don’t care about Vogue US, they have better more relevant ‘fashion’ magazines. Considering there are local equivalents in each key countries like the Vogue India edition and Vogue China edition, when I was living in South East Asia and the Middle East, most people who subscribes to the local fashion magazines, almost always subscribes to their international counterparts to get the direct source of inspirations. So you can expect that a woman from Mumbai is spending her hard-earned money for a copy of Vogue India and a Vogue US as well.



Vogue US is created on the foundation of white affluence and wealth. The top positions in Vogue US are inherited, not earned. A truth that Anna Wintour proudly and gleefully admitted in the 2009 documentary ‘September Issue’ ( a rebuttal for the 2006 Academy award nominated ‘Devil Wears Prada’). Anna Wintour’s father (Charles Wintour, editor of the London Evening Standard) literally handed her over the job on a silver platter, and that has been the picture perfect ‘white’ scenario for centuries, not only in fashion, but most other multi-billion dollar industries in the world, keeping the more hardworking, more talented, more competent ‘REAL PEOPLE’ away from the top positions for more than a century. Since it was founded in 1892, over 118 years of Vogue US –meaning, in 1,416 white covers published lead by a solid succession of ’7 white editors-in-chief’, less than 20 (out of 1,416 covers) are women of color. NO ASIAN beauty (celebrity or supermodel) have ever graced Vogue US’ cover even in the modern civilization in 2010.



So I have been absent for a hot minute in The Colonized Mind, I appreciate all your emails and messages in Facebook, letting me know some of your reactions and to my surprise, some admirations. Some are even so passionate and demanding me to post more articles more often. Some asking why I haven’t posted as regular as before. You see folks, writing (or rambling) is not my day job, and with all the Ivy League grammar police complaining about my english, I think I’ll be keeping my day job for a while. For those who care to know, I also take pictures, of people (sometimes with clothes), I am also working on my first novel that is in its first draft (hopefully will be on its second draft soon). But for all it’s worth I miss you too!

An excerpt on a message of one of my 4,700 friends in Facebook I received just last week: “Dear Navo, You may be the only real authentic voice out there in the world today – Speaking up for those who do not have a voice of courage and conviction like your own… Love your style and your approach… Mark my words – when this is all said and done history will remember you as a pioneer of ‘Change’.” S.S. (New York & Paris based Creative Director and photographer)

I believe that the true ‘Pioneers of Change’ here are the people on my Top 12 Minorities, like Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, they are the world’s best fashion photographers living today, shooting almost all of the blue chip campaigns and editorials in every single high-end magazines and still using their power and vision to promote CHANGE, like the recent historical Givenchy Fall/ Winter 2010/2011 Ad Campaigns shot by the duo M&M.


As a minority I believe we need to be more sensitive to other minorities when ‘the majority’ aren’t.


The Asian-Americans, Native Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Arab-Americans, American Jews, Irish-Americans, women, immigrants, homosexuals, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, third parties, the homeless and the disabled, anyone who doesn’t fit in the cookie cutter mold that a majority has created.

I exactly know how you feel, I am one of you,  and you are not alone, I know the feeling of being vastly outnumbered, the feeling of being discriminated, the feeling of being stereotyped, the feeling of being an underdog, a token, a dark horse in a community, in a society, in an industry.

We, as minorities, share a very powerful bond.

Who could have predicted a century ago that names like Alas, Yamamoto, Kebede, Gurung, Hamza or Slimane would be the new voices and innovators in the Fashion industry?

People always ask me the ethos behind talking about minorities in fashion. Why promote hate? Why not just let people’s work speak for themselves? Am I looking for sympathy and controversy?

These are the least of the tongue-lashing questions I receive on a daily basis.

If and when I’m in the mood, I tell them in my own simple way that: “I want to show minorities all over the world that they are not alone. True, most of them are not (yet) as widely celebrated household names like fashion’s white majority, but the 12 people on my list represent themselves with greatness, integrity, and grace regardless of the walls and barriers they have to chip down to get to where they are now.”

“They may not be as privileged by birthright, but that didn’t stop them from claiming their places in history, in their own industry and in the respect of their peers.”

Ladies and Gentlemen meet the true Pioneers of Change in Fashion.

1. Mert Alas

When I interviewed Mert Alas just last April, I asked him what advise can he give to the young men and women all over the world who wants to be in a caucasian dominated industry. He gracefully replied “Be yourself and work for your dream. If you are good, you will be noticed.” (

A Turkish-born fashion photographer, the half of the dynamic duo of  the world’s best fashion photographers working today. With their trademark of sophisticated, powerful, crisp, innovative and iconic images, they are two of the most influential people in the fashion industry, and never failed to use it to support the unheard voice of the creative minorities.

On their belt are magazines such as Vogue Paris, Vogue Italia, Vogue USA, W Magazine, Pop Magazine, Numero and Arena Homme Plus, blue chip clients such as Louis Vuitton, Missoni, Giorgio Armani, Roberto Cavalli, Givenchy, Gucci, Miu Miu, Yves Saint Laurent and beauties like the iconic Madonna, Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista, Gisele Bündchen, Björk, Charlotte Rampling, Kylie Minogue, and Sophie Ellis-Bextor among others.

2. Issey Miyake 三宅 一生

Born in Hiroshima, Japan.  A Hiroshima 1945 Bombing survivor at the age of seven. A student of designers Laroche and Givenchy.

Known for his technology-driven clothing designs that has a consistent balance between tradition and innovation, handcrafts and new technology. One of the most influential fashion designer in the history of the world.  A wonder and inspiration to the international fashion community since 1970.

3. Yohji Yamamoto 山本 耀司

I used to live right above the Y3 branch in Soho and I have been one of this legend’s biggest fan.

An internationally known fashion designer based in Tokyo and Paris. One of the most influential fashion designer in the world today. Known for an avant-garde spirit in his clothing, frequently creating designs far removed from current trends. His signature oversized silhouettes in black often feature drapery in varying textures. Yohji Yamamoto Inc. reported in 2007 that the sales of Yamamoto’s two main lines average above $100 million annually.

Born in Tokyo, Yamamoto graduated from Keio University with a degree in law in 1966.

4. Rei Kawakubo 川久保 玲

A media shy Japanese-born fashion designer. Founder of Comme des Garçons in 1973. An iconoclast, considered a “designer’s designer” for her innovative and fearless convictions and the great influence to generations of designers all over the world such as the Belgian Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester, the Austrian designer Helmut Lang and her  former apprentice Junya Watanabe.

Untrained as a fashion designer herself, studied fine arts and literature at Keio University. After graduation, Kawakubo worked in a textile company and later as a freelance stylist in 1967.

Rei’s designs specialises in anti-fashion, austere, sometimes deconstructed garments, always challenging the established notions of beauty.

photo: Mariano Vivanco

5. Nicola Formichetti

The newly appointed creative director of Thierry Mugler, fashion director and close friend of popstar Lady Gaga, fashion director of Vogue Hommes Japan,  Contributing fashion editor of V Magazine, V Man, Dazed & Confused, Another, Another Man and the fashion director of Uniqlo.

As one of the most influential and celebrated fashion stylist/director in the world today, his clients ranges from Alexander McQueen, Y3, Giorgio Armani, Prada, D&G, Missoni, Costume National, Iceberg, Topman, H&M, Max Mara, Adidas, Nike, Puma,  Levis and Issey Miyake.

Born in Japan to an Italian father and a Japanese mother.  Grew up between Italy and Japan resulting in his internationally eclectic unique style, both modern and traditional, both Eastern and European.

6. Tyson Beckford

An American-born supermodel paved the way for up-and-coming male models of colour when he was recruited by Ralph Lauren as the image model for the company’s Polo line of male sportswear in 1991 and  for Ralph Lauren’s Polo Sport fragrance in 1993. Changing history as he graced the covers of Vogue, GQ, Details, Men’s Health, and The New York Times among others.

Tyson was born to a Jamaican father of Panamanian descent and Chinese/American mother. He grew up in New York and Jamaica.

7. Stephen Gan

Born and raised in the Philippines, Gan arrived in New York City when he was 18 and changing his life and fashion history altogether.
Creative director at Harper’s Bazaar, co-founder of Visionaire, editor-in-chief of V Magazine and Vman magazine, and the director of Dream Project, a creative powerhouse, with advertising clients such as Calvin Klein, Dior, Fendi, Shiseido, Olay Colour Europe, Tommy Hilfiger, D&G and Missoni.

8. Liya Kebede

Ethiopian-born supermodel who is only one of the less than 20 minorities that appeared in the cover of US Vogue twice. In 2008 was featured on one of the four covers of Vogue Italia‘s historical all Black Issue.  Kebede’s big break came when Tom Ford asked her for an exclusive contract for his Gucci Fall/Winter 2000 fashion show.

Kebede’s popularity in the fashion industry sky-rocketed when she appeared on the cover of the May 2002 edition of Paris Vogue which dedicated the entire issue to her and later gracing the covers of Italian, Japanese, American, French and Spanish Vogue, V, Flair, i-D and Time’s Style & Design, ad campaigns such as Gap, Yves Saint-Laurent, Victoria’s Secret, Emanuel Ungaro, Tommy Hilfiger, Revlon, Dolce & Gabbana, Escada and Louis Vuitton.

The eleventh-highest-paid top model in the world in 2007 was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

9.  Hedi Slimane

A world renowned French fashion designer and one of my favorite photographers living today is of Tunisian تونس, Italian-Brazilian origins. He studied political science, and Art History at the École du Louvre, and was also educated as a tailor.

Hedi’s resume includes, Collections and Art Director at the house of Yves Saint Laurent in 1997, was invited to create his own label within the Gucci Group, creative designer for  Christian Dior‘s men’s clothing in 2000, Creative Director for Christian Dior men’s fragrances, including Eau Noire, Cologne Blanche, Bois d’Argent, Dior Homme, and Dior Homme Intense.

As a photographer Hedi is famous for taking natural photos with minimal makeup or no photoshop at all. He has started a large amount of careers in the model industry.

Hedi Slimane lives between Paris and Los Angeles.

10. Prabal Gurung

Born in Singapore and raised in the Kingdom of Nepal’s Kathmandu, his career started to take off when he apprenticed at several local production/fashion houses and designed with Manish Arora while studying at New Delhi’s National Institute of Fashion Technology, India.

One of the most celebrated new voices in New York fashion, has dressed everybody from Michelle Obama to Demi Moore. Prabal Gurung’s collection includes sculpted gowns and other intricate designs.

In the past he has worked for Cynthia Rowley and Bill Blass, but his polished and sophisticated signature style could easily land him a job at any of the classic labels.


Photo: Mert & Marcus (Interview, Oct 2010). Styled by Karl Templer.

11. Naomi Campbell

A British supermodel with an unprecedented successful modelling career for a ‘non-white’ model, one of the most recognisable and in-demand models of her generation. A part of the “Big Six”, along Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista and Kate Moss, and “The Trinity”, alongside Turlington and Evangelista during the supermodel era. Naomi has appeared on more than 500 magazine covers (such as Vogue Italia, Japanese Vogue, Elle, i-D, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, Interview, W, Vanity Fair and GQ) and has enjoyed an unmatched runway career longevity.

In August 1988, she appeared on the cover of Vogue Paris as the publication’s first black cover girl, after friend and mentor, Yves St. Laurent, threatened to withdraw all of his advertising from the publication after it refused to place Campbell, or any black model, on its cover. Naomi is also the second black model to appear on the cover of Vogue UK.

In 2008 was featured on one of the four covers of Vogue Italia‘s historical all Black Issue and in 2009, Campbell gained a lot of attention when she spoke of the “racist” fashion industry.

12. Sharif Hamza

Is one of the very very few ‘non-white’ fashion photographers who have ever shot for Fashion industry bibles such as Vogue Paris, Vogue Italy, Vogue Russia, LOVE , and Dazed & Confused among others.

A former first-assistant to the legendary fashion photographer Steven Klein, Sharif coming from a Filipino and Egyptian origins has proven to be a force to be reckoned with and one of the true Pioneers of Change in Fashion in my list.