Why We Shouldn’t Be Celebrating Fashion’s ‘Most Diverse’ Year Yet

Why We Shouldn’t Be Celebrating Fashion’s ‘Most Diverse’ Year Yet

Fashion shows this year were hailed – in the runway report by The Fashion Spot – as the most diverse yet. Models of many ethnicities, ages and sizes were present on the catwalks of New York, London, Milan and Paris. 7 out of 10 models were still white though, so where is everyone else? From the people with disabilities, to others who are not acknowledged; should we really be celebrating?

Although it might have been the most diverse year for fashion yet, the industry still seems reluctant to represent all types of diversities, from different ethnicities to sizes and ages. “I will be part of this quota of the mixed-race and the black male,” 39-year-old mixed-race model Adama Boudoir tells me. He grimaces. “Sometimes, I am not black enough, nor white enough. What the hell does that make me?” Boudoir explains how the nature of fashion is selective, and that hundreds of models will attend castings for just one campaign, and usually it is a “competition between me, and the one other black guy for a spot amongst all the white models.” This is an exclusive process; one which fails to reflect the diverse world we live in. Wish.com came under scrutiny for this discriminatory practice when they decided to market plus-size tights not with a plus-size model, but with slimmer models wearing plus-size tights stretched over them. It entirely excluded its market.

#newvogue is here – what’s everyone thoughts on it?

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The cover of December’s British Vogue features Adwoa Aboah, the mixed-race activist and model famous for her lightly freckled face. This was the first issue for Vogue’s new editor, Edward Enninful; the previous editor, Alexandra Shulman, has been criticised for a lack of diversity. Perhaps, this lack of diversity can be seen in the British Vogue archives, which boasts, of the 97 issues since the beginning of 2010, only six covers featuring a solo non-white person. Kate Moss, at nine covers in this period, had more altogether. In fact, since 2010, white women have accounted for nine out of ten of the publication’s covers.

The definition of diverse has become broader; including people of colour is no longer the benchmark for diversity. “Conversations are happening and I like the fact that diversity is no longer just about black and white. It’s about shape, it’s about religion, it’s about gender,” Enninful told the Financial Times. But with Taylor Swift as British Vogue’s January 2018 cover and Edward’s second issue, we need to ask the question; is anything changing? Historically and presently, it seems, any white woman who is moderately famous will grace the cover of British Vogue.  Are black, brown, average, plus size, disabled and older women still not cool enough to sell?

Much of the imagery we currently see does women a disservice,” says Heidy Rehman, founder & CEO of fashion company Rose & Willard. “I choose to feature diverse models because I think it’s simply the right thing to do.” Fashion has a responsibility to show us a range of people, not just Cindy and now, Kaia. Why then, is fashion purposely ignoring diversity? “We live in a diverse world. We aren’t all the same size, shape, colour, ability or age. Yet, fashion gives this impression and it shouldn’t, says Rosie Keysell, finance director of the charity Models of Diversity.

The Somali-American Muslim model Halima Aden has walked for Yeezy and Max Mara. She wears the hijab, which for a model, is rare. We need more Halima Adens though; we shouldn’t be able to see one Muslim model and tick that box.

The same can be said for the older male model Philippe Dumas, the trans models Teddy Quinlivan and Munroe Bergdorf; and Shaun Ross, the male albino model who has been in photo-editorials for Italian Vogue and British GQ. If any of these models had been cast in, say, the LOVE advent calendar this year, it would’ve been ground-breaking for diversity, an advent that would’ve challenged its usual criteria; think, either and or both of the Hadids, Hailey Baldwin and Kendall Jenner dancing around with a hammer in lingerie. The plus-size model Ashley Graham has been featured in this year’s LOVE advent, but maybe that is to show the smallest bit of diversity possible, so we can’t call out the calendar for what it really is: exclusive and operating on eurocentric beauty standards.

Is fashion scared to take a gamble on a diverse model, where they might with a white one? Finance director of the charity Models of Diversity, Rosie Keysell says, “There does seem to be an underlying fear that if you aren’t using a thin, 6ft, white model, then your clothes won’t sell.” Fashion follows a formula, and this reflects the high proportion of young, white models in the industry. Boudoir – who has been an editorial model since 17 – reflects on this. “People use these young models until their careers are finished, and then they replace them with exactly the same thing. Eventually, you might find someone who is a bit edgy, but they still fit the equation. Fashion is scared to try something new.” Rehman agrees; she’s found that using diverse models has been “hard, and not well received.”

What it means to be diverse is changing – but should we celebrate fashion for this? No. Fashion continues to cut corners, from limiting diversity to just a few faces, to British Vogue’s failure to include more than one non-white person in every ten covers, to excluding groups of people that a brand will make money from. The definition of diversity may have become broader, but the fashion industry has not moved enough. It’s representing more types of people simply to hit quotas, so it can’t be called out; its attitude toward diversity remains the same: indifferent. Let’s hope influential people like Enninful can offer some respite from this, although considering British Vogue’s January cover, I’m dubious. Because, at this rate – diversity in fashion isn’t happening.

Written by Maddy White,


Feature image owned by Vogue

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