Diversity. Where are we really?
A month of runway shows across fashion’s 4 most influential cities for the FW18 season is now complete. And what a month! 10,206 models walking the runway, Dolce Gabanna casting drones, dogs on the runway for Tods in Milan, protests in London, ‘where are the curves? and in New York, criticism for not enough.
From handbag carrying drones to diversity, you can’t help but notice how fashion’s narrative, once based on the creative context of seasonal collections now includes and has invited itself into conversations that are both political and social in nature with inclusivity and diversity being the big ticket items of the season. The question of ‘who’ is wearing the clothes less about celebrity and more about inclusion of size, gender & race, but are these shared concerns and do they hold equal weight across fashion’s capitals’?
The headlines would have us believe that creating and demonstrating more diversity and inclusion is a shared value with equal relevance across the industry as a whole and that it is being embraced as a global discussion, however when you look a little closer, particularly when it comes to size diversity on the runway, not everyone seems to be weighing in.
It’s no secret that the runways of Spring/Summer were the most diverse yet. A shared win globally for the industry, but when we really search through the commentary and numbers, cracks start to appear in this supposedly unified discussion and it quickly becomes apparent that despite the criticism against New York for failing to achieve the same level of inclusion across the runway as it’s milestone SS18 season. When it comes to size, even when the numbers drop as they did for FW18, New York Fashion Week is actually miles ahead of its European counterparts both with respect to equal representation on the runway and in achieving congruence between what is happening across both the editorial and runway spaces.
European designers remain reluctant to showcase any model above a size 6 and where we are seeing a slight increase in editorial representation for plus size models within the European market, the runway is a completely different story and a real disconnect exists between the two the mediums.
In her interview with teen vogue, Vogue editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, commented that
‘’English designers still seem very much in love with the idea of a very thin girl. And the idea to be cool, you have to be thin. We’re taking such big steps print wise, commercial wise, and editorially, but it’s just like fashion shows are so behind still. It’s really frustrating”.
It begs the question? Is size diversity genuinely a global concern for the fashion industry at large and equally as important what will be required to really create permanent change?
Julie Zerbo from The Fashion Law shared some excellent insights with us on this issue.
“For me, the lack of widespread diversity is actually a symptom of a deeper problem and that is the fashion industry’s reliance on the same small handful of individuals – whether it be creatives or CEOs or casting directors or models, etc.
When an industry (fashion or otherwise) is run by a group of largely interconnected individuals, the output tends to be pretty static. So, in fashion, for example, if you have the same creative directors jumping from brand to brand and the same few casting directors doing all the big shows and editorials, the aesthetic and the casting will be quite uniform.
This doesn’t allow for much expansion beyond that set standard of beauty. This is, for me, what we, as the fashion industry, have to address first in order to see and affect real change on the runway and in editorials.”
On a number of levels fashion has evolved significantly in the last 5-10 years with bloggers and influencers creating new platforms and challenging the status quo around accessibility and standards of beauty. As a result, access has been granted to a once exclusive room; in reality though, this is not simply a room, but a house with many rooms and a few secret doorways that remain well and truly closed to the new breed and if access is continually denied, the ceiling on what fashion can be and achieve globally within this diversity discussion may never reach its potential.
New York’s steps may be small but they are significant, proving that barriers can be broken which is why the conversation remains so critical. Because with every fracture and every ounce of pressure, the seemingly iron-clad walls will eventually start to weaken, but one thing is for sure, the industry needs to let in some light and allow new realms of thought and innovation to drive its continued evolution and it has to start from the top down.
Fashion can be a tough industry even on the best of days but it is also an industry with incredible power and influence yet its relevance and significance is at risk of being overlooked and diminished by a reputation given to discrimination & exclusivity.
Lets make sure that drones and adorable puppies on the runway don’t distract us from the real diversity discussion.
Real change is well and truly overdue and we’re ready for it.