The more things change, the more they stay the same. There may be changes in runway presentation and access but according to the Fashion Week Fall 2016 Diversity Report, the diversity gap is still very extant. It was just three years ago that two of the original supermodels, Naomi Campbell and Iman, joined forces with with Fashion activist, Bethann Hardison to create the ‘Diversity Coalition’. The trio called out the fashion industry’s ‘act of racism for not using models of colour’. Even going as far as highlighting the designers that at the time predominantly worked with Caucasian models such as Victoria Beckham, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein and Marc Jacobs. In a letter to the major fashion councils, the trio stressed that, “No matter the [designers’] intention the result is racism.” In a 2013 interview with CNN, Iman went further to express that, “The diversity that we live in, the world that we live in, is not what is shown on the runway. That to me is the concern. It’s a bigger issue at large than just about runway and models.”
“The diversity that we live in, the world that we live in, is not what is shown on the runway. That to me is the concern. It’s a bigger issue at large than just about runway and models.” ~ Iman
Since then, there have been influential designers who have made strides for runway inclusion. Take New York-based designer Zac Posen. He embraced diversity on a big scale for The Fall 2016 season with a powerful declaration that “Black Models Matter” with 87 percent of casting being non-white. The collection itself was a tribute to Princess Elizabeth of Toro, the first East African woman to be admitted to the English bar. Give this designer a cookie! Other designers that hired majority models of colour for their runways include Chromat at 85 percent, Talbot Runhof at 60 percent, and Sophie Theallat at 54 percent. But it was Yeezy (we promise, it’s the last article in this series that we’ll bring up Kanye West) that cast 100 percent non-white models down the runway.
But for every inclusive designer there’s another that seems to have missed the memo on diversity altogether. We’re talking about Demna Gvasalia and the all-white Balenciaga runway at Paris Fashion week AW16. Oh wait, there was one token non-white model. Amidst the rave reviews the collection reaped, casting director James Scully, who has collaborated with designers such as Stella McCartney, Tom Ford and Carolina Herrera, reproofed the designer on social media.
“So if you’re the designer the whole world is looking to right now how, [sic] great that your message is one of exclusion which is never in fashion. It must feel like a slap to all if [sic] the people of colour who line up to buy your clothes that your message to them [sic] you don’t see them in your world. Two strikes out. And the award for most anticipated and biggest disappointment at once goes to…… Demma Gvasalia ”
Fact is, it’s not just Demma Gvasalia that has failed to take runway diversity into consideration. Saint Laurent, who is a repeat offender, only had five percent diversity in their runway show. But it was Junya Watanabe, Moon Young Hee, and Comme des Garçons who took the cake and had zero percent diversity. Not even a token model. Given these findings, it’s no surprise that among the top 10 models with the most bookings for the Fall 2016 season, 8 out of 10 were white.
According to Fashion Week Fall 2016 Diversity Report by the Fashion Spot, of the 312 shows during the Big Four Fashion Week Fall 2016 only 24.75 percent were models of colour. Once again, the runway was predominantly cast Caucasian at 75.25 percent. This is a slight improvement from Fall/Winter 2014 runway statistics that had white models cast at 78.68 percent and Spring/Summer 2014 before that which was 79.98 percent.
The Diversity Coalition’s objective to inject more women of colour – especially those of African decent – seems to be yielding some fruit. Black models casting have increased from 7.4 percent in Fall 2015 and 8.5 percent in Spring 2016 to 9.22 percent in the latest Fall 2016 report. The diversity report shows that there is improvement, however that the change is happening at the breakneck speed of a tortoise. And other minorities are feeling this impact even more, with Latina and Asian casting numbers dropping steadily to its current 2.46 percent and 7.48 percent representation respectively. Out of the top 10 models on the in-demand list with the most bookings in Fall 2016, only two models of colour made this season: Lineisy Montero and Sora Choi. Lineisy Montero also happens to be the very model who took to the Prada runway in 2015 with her natural afro amid 41 other models with sleek ponytails. In theory, it shouldn’t be unusual for a woman to wear her hair in it’s natural state. However, in an industry that will either blow out, sleek down or choose to weave or wig it entirely, her afro was a powerful message on the beauty of diversity and embracing our own natural beauty.
Body size has always been an issue in Fashion Week, with allegations it has played a major role in perpetuating unhealthy and unrealistic body image ideals. Countries such as Israel, Spain and Italy have already taken measures to prevent the culture of underweight and unhealthy models walking the runway but France took it a step further. According to an article by the WWD, they passed a law December 2015 that not only requires a proof of overall health and normal BMI from a doctor, but also any commercial photography that digitally altered their models must include a disclosure stating this. Penalty for failure to comply? A fine of 75,000 euros and the possibility of six months in prison.
“…Fashion is for everybody – not just for a small group. I can’t stress enough how much of a collective responsibility this is.”~Chelsea Jay
All that said, not much has changed when it comes to the body ideals for the runway. Body diversity manages to fall behind racial inclusion at fashion week. While Spring 2016 featured 14 plus-size model appearances, Fall 2016 shows only had six in the four major shows combined. Just like in race, there are cases of tokenism on the catwalk. Models of Diversity member, model Chelsea Jay, pointed out that despite the continuous dialogue, showcasing a normal body size such as size 12 is still considered out of the norm. In an interview published in the Irish Examiner she said, “They are talking about models like they aren’t supposed to represent people. They are there to be almost like clothes hangers, but we are not in a society any more where models are looked at like that… Fashion is for everybody – not just for a small group. I can’t stress enough how much of a collective responsibility this is.”
Weight isn’t the only body diversity issue being discussed. Even fewer on the catwalk are models with disabilities. FTL Moda’s AW15 collection ‘FTL Moda Loving You’, which was created by designer Antonio Urzi, partnered with Fondazione Vertical, an Italian research foundation for spinal cord injuries. The show was praised for its inclusion of disabled people, including the world’s first male amputee Jack Eyers.
FTL did it again with their FTL Moda’s Spring 2016 collection wherein they teamed up with Global Disability Inclusion and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to raise money and showcase #FashionFreeFromConfines. It featured Madeline Stuart, the second female model with Down syndrome to walk for New York Fashion Week (the first being Jamie Brewer), as well as US wheelchair model, Leslie Irby.
Not forgetting Winnie Harlow of America’s Next Top Model Cycle 21 fame and winner of Cycle 22 Nyle DiMarco, a model with the skin condition vitiligo and the first deaf contestant on the show, who have walked at NYFW. Despite the above efforts, there still isn’t full representation of disabled models from the modelling agencies to the casting calls.
We may have no complaints when it comes to race, Sunday times in South Africa even indicates that the SA Fashion Shows are dominated by darker models. We may, however, experience the body diversity issue in Fashion Weeks and Shows in Africa. In African Fashion Weeks as well. Rarely are the models on the runway a true reflection of the shapes and curves of the people on the continent. The only search for fashion shows that featured models with disabilities was a Kenyan fashion show organised by Dear Diary at Fort Jesus, Mombasa late 2015.
Another section that gives women some serious complexes. Usually in fashion, the younger the better. It’s not uncommon to have teenagers walk the runway – both Kimora lee and Chanel Iman – started quite young. The Fall 2016 season did try to include older models; according to the Fashion Spot, 11 ‘aged models’ to be exact. This is a notable growth from only five appearances in Spring 2016. Both Sophie Theallet and Yeezy had supermodel veteran Veronica Webb grace their catwalks, while H&M Studio and Redemption in Paris worked with Pat Cleveland.
It seems that age doesn’t seem to impact men as it does women (seriously, in life and in fashion too?). Dolce & Gabbana regularly feature older men on the runway. In fact it’s worth noting that the brand works with all ages in their photo campaign.
From five transgender models in the Spring 2016, there was small growth in Fall 2016, with eight transgender models in total from London, New York and Paris Fashion Week. Milan, however did not cast any transgender models. In fact, they omitted aged and plus size models as well. H&M Studio once again added to their diversity inclusion to strengthen their collection’s theme of beauty and strength of women.
There is still a strong message of exclusion; albeit the small strides achieved so far. The industry seems stuck in its old ways, yet our world can’t be fully represented by size zero and white models. It just can’t. The industry has failed to recognise that diversity is one of society’s greatest asset, which could create major progress on and off the runway; if it was properly embraced. The biggest change that needs to occur is a modification in perspective in every level of the fashion industry.