UT alum walks New York Fashion Week, aims to open doors for Black, LGBTQ+ models

Aaron Boehmer, Life and Arts Reporter

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the August 9, 2022 flip book. 

Turning the corner, Darnell Forbes makes his first steps onto the runway in Dallas. Heads turn, eyes gawk and Forbes bites the insides of his cheeks to keep himself from laughing. As he makes his way down the catwalk, he steps into an air of confidence.

“When I came out (onto the runway), there was a sound everyone made like they were shocked,” the UT alumnus said. “(When) all these people are complimenting (and) cheering you on, it’s so hard not to laugh. It is very exhilarating, (and) you get to be so confident.”

After getting his start in modeling at the UT student publication Spark Magazine, Forbes later became acquainted with the modeling world in Dallas and New York and signed to the New York-based modeling agency ANTHM in October 2021. Now, covered head to toe in couture, Forbes has walked various runways in both metroplexes.

By Feb. 2022, Forbes appeared in his first New York Fashion Week for brands such as House of Bartholomew, Pia Bolte, LLESSUR and Black Merchant$. Hoping to walk in this prestigious event for the second time in September, Forbes will return to New York later this month to begin the casting process for NYFW, which runs Sept. 9-14.

In the fall of 2021, Forbes served as Spark’s assistant creative director, where he said he appreciated the ability to create without limitations.

“(In Spark) there’s absolute creative freedom,” Forbes said. “There’s really no parameters, no guidelines, (and) you can really do anything.”

UT alum Xandria Hernandez, who worked as managing editor at Spark during Forbes’ semester as assistant creative director, said she noticed his ability to execute the publication’s creative vision.

“His presence demands your attention,” Hernandez said. “Whether through facials or body language, he knows how to visually communicate the intended creative direction.”

During his first year at UT, Forbes met Caroline Onwuzu, who recently graduated from UT with a degree in human development and family sciences. Forbes and Onwuzu now share the same management, J3 Productions by Willie Johnson, and Onwuzu said she consistently feels inspired by Forbes’ growth.

“In the beginning, I definitely saw him as more of a shy talent, and now he is much more confident,” Onwuzu said. “I really did always believe in Darnell (and) could see him (modeling). It just took him believing in himself.”

However, Forbes said his belief in himself did not come without hardships as a Black gay man starting out in the modeling industry.

“(I was) told (by agents), ‘You’re just too feminine,’ or, ‘Those pants are just way too tight,’” Forbes said. “They essentially were telling me the parts of me that make me myself were too much, and that felt really disheartening.”

Despite the hardships he faces, Forbes said he will bend but never fold when it comes to his image as a model.

“(If they) want me to be more masculine, I’m willing to do that (by wearing) masculine clothes (and) no makeup,” Forbes said. “(I’m) not folding (or) compromising on myself (when they tell) me I come off way too feminine (or have a problem with) my features, face or measurements.”

As Forbes’ modeling career grows, he said he hopes he can make room for LGBTQ+ people, especially other Black gay men.

“(Getting) booked when you’re a Black gay male, or even a gay male, (is) harder because they want you for your male persona, but maybe you have a little bit of flair that you bring to the table, which could actually be a great thing,” Forbes said. “I want to create space for people to be their authentic selves … and not (be) overlooked.