With Spring 2018 being the most racially inclusive runway to date (30.8% models of colour), there were high hopes for diversity casting in AW18. But this fashion month didn’t bring differences between designers to the fore as much as differences between continents. New York Fashion Week has shown itself to be much more inclusive than its European counterparts. Three standout shows illustrated what fashion could and should be: Christian Siriano, Eckhaus Latta and Chromat. The three are schooling the fashion world in “diversity”, a term which has far broader implications than race. In Chromat’s show alone, nonbinary, transgender, differently abled, curvy, Muslim, Asian, black and Hispanic women of varying ages marched down the runway, acknowledging the true breadth of identity categories that constitute mass-representation. Those chosen to represent Chromat this season were more than just visually diverse; notable participants included trans-activist Gene Rocero, breast-cancer activist Ericka Heart and Emme- the world’s first “plus sized” model. Christian Siriano sent actress Selma Blaire down the runway, one of the first women to come forward and catalyse the #MeToo movement. Their laudable castings demand for a re-evaluation of the role of the model in contemporary culture. These designers are challenging others to question who they put on a pedestal — and what kinds of role models they are promoting to a generation of young people shaped by the media.
If history is comprised of runway after runway of skinny white women, a fixation with honouring history has previously impeded progress. In Europe, home of the grand old houses, there were signs of change, finally. Anok Yai was the first black women to open Prada since Naomi Campbell 20 years prior, Comme Des Garçon cast a black model for the first time since 1994, Halima walked for Max Mara in hijab. Balenciaga have also seriously upped their game since facing backlash about their lack of diversity. We might well ask why it has taken so long, but change is coming.
In London, Simone Rocha, Gareth Pugh and Teatum Jones cast models over 50, giving a much needed nod to the narrowness of fashion’s preferred age range. Molly Goddard deserves recognition for a show that was largely non-binary, had more size variety than most and featured a look with a hijab. In Paris, Off-White’s show included 23 (out of 43) non-white models. But Berlin-based GmbH set the bar for diversity casting, with a 71% MOC ratio.
The BEST reward of them all is this! And it deserves a post!! I have been waiting for this moment in my life since I've started designing. I am on the plane leaving Paris and resting my mind just for a minute. I am looking back at all my projects I ever did referencing exactly all this since the beginning of my career. And FINALLY the dream comes true. We have a voice and it's been heard and I am literally moved to tears. Let's change this for once and all together! There is no way back anymore! A huge THANK YOU to all our beautiful models and friends walking us into victory @gmbhofficial and making this come true. You made me the happiest and proudest man of Paris this season. this was only possible because of your beauty !! . . !!!MY BEAUTY OFFENDS YOU!!! . . A big heads up and thank you also to all our fellow designer friends living and believing in diversity. We are one! . . #gmbhofficial #parisfw #fw18
Europe’s most blatant diversity shortcoming is in size — and that hasn’t gone unnoticed. In London, model Hayley Hasselhof lead a protest with other models representing sizes ranging from 16-26. The gang, outfitted in lingerie, held signs stating “curves shouldn’t mean compromise” and “LFW: where are the curves?”. Though their protest was London focused, the question should be directed to Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks with equal ferocity.
Trans-visibility has increased across the board. In Europe, model Teddy Quinlivan walked for Coach, Gucci, Moschino, Versace, Dior, Saint Laurent and Maison Margiela. Alexander McQueen showed age range and a smidge of size range by again casting “curve” model Betsy Teske. Teske, made fashion history last season by being the first ever “plus-size” model to walk Paris Fashion Week.
The era of the conception of “model as blank canvas” has come to an end. Designers are ever so slowly recognising their social responsibilities and acknowledging that everything they send down the runway has the power to impact broader culture. Purveyors of fashion are no longer accepting the sample sized white woman as a given. This charge has been long been lead by young, vivacious brands, from Eckhaus Latta to Molly Goddard to Off-White, as well as accounts like @moremodelsofcolor calling out what needs to be called out. They’re unanchored to the past and have the freedom to create their legacies in the present – legacies as brands which strive toward mass-representation. What’s interesting is that the big houses are finally catching up.