Bridging the Gap

Collage by Aylea Skye/ Original Image by Burberry

Collage by Aylea Skye/ Original Image by Burberry

EDWARD

It’s safe to say that 2017 is fashion's most diverse year ever. British Vogue announced the appointment of its new Editor-in-Chief Edward Enninful this July, swiftly followed by the introduction of his new editorial team, including the likes of Naomi Campbell, Steve McQueen and Adwoa Aboah as contributing editors and Pat McGrath as beauty editor-at-large. As the first man, a black man at that, heading the iconic publication, this is patent, a major step towards diversity in fashion.  

Enninful has had a long, extensive career within the industry, as a model, stylist, fashion director and editor at publications such as i-D, W to Vogue Italia and its various counterparts. With his experience and creative eye, it was only a matter of time before he headed the British publication.

Notably, Enninful styled two Vogue Italia spreads that featured solely black models. The first, in July 2008, featured Pat Cleveland, Iman, Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, Alek Wek and Liya Kebede; the models that paved the way for the second spread in 2011, that featured Joan Smalls, Jourdan Dunn and Chanel Iman. For a major publication – one that is not that is built for a not so diverse audience of Caucasian Italian women – this was an inspiring and audacious move. 

Magazines (and the mainstream media in general in fact) are too often intimidated by the possibility of their audiences not taking to fresh concepts and so stick with a lacklustre formula.

Edward Enninful’s dedication to celebrating diversity is indicative of what is suspected to come at British Vogue. 

His appointment at the magazine can be seen by many as a shift in the industry. However, the question is why in over 100 years of its publication is this the first time that someone of colour has headed the magazine? The answer can be found on Naomi Campbell’s Instagram, where the supermodel – and newly appointed British Vogue contributing editor (in case you've forgotten already) – recently posted an image of the editorial team under previous editor Alexandra Schulman, which confirmed that the British Vogue was white through and through. Every single member of the team was white (and middle class), as expected and rightfully so criticism followed. But rather than criticise one publication it would probably be more perceptive to gage that this image is sadly an accurate reflection of the fashion world, full stop.

THE INDUSTRY

We see up and coming models like Lineisy Montero, Maria Borges, Neelam Gill, Winnie Harlow, Halima Aden and Leomie Anderson just to name a few who are changing the similar face of fashion (and doing so successfully), but still a vast majority of campaigns feature a token model of colour and runways shows consist of 70% white models. This is what fashion is advertising to the world as diversity on the frontline, so this begs the question, what about fashion behind the scenes? 

The authorities who generate the images we see; the creative directors, the writers, photographers, art directors, stylists, beauty editors and assistants, etc, are essentially responsible for ensuring diversity in fashion is the norm and not just a passing fad. Until there is diversity in the creative teams behind these publications (both print and digital), what appears on the pages and screens that we look at will only be of surface value. Diversity is having its moment for its popularity and selling ability but what happens if this stops? To change fashion’s story, we first need to start with the creatives who control the narrative.

To trace back the diversity gap in fashion, let’s take a look at the industry in London. As with any creative field, fashion has become notoriously difficult to get into over the past few years. For most people, it all starts with the humble entry-level position, the internship. 

Currently, the majority of internships are known to be full-time and unpaid (aside for travel expenses), which excludes those who can’t afford to work for free (which essentially what it is, free labour). Despite being touted as great experience and an excellent way to get your foot in the door, this is only relevant to those lucky few who live in, or can commute to London and be financially supported throughout the duration of their internship. 

London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, brimming with talented creatives from every race and background, and sadly many of whom do not have the back of mum and dad to support their endeavours and so they are unable to take on the opportunities (internships) that may propel their careers. So, the diversity gap only gets wider as we see that it is not only an issue of race but also of class.

Fortunately, the innovation of the often disdained 'Millennials' and 'Generation X mean that those without opportunity are creating their own, be that through start-ups, collectives, blogs, etc. 

BRIDGING THE GAP

Looking forward, the only solution is to flip the script and widen the net. The beauty of fashion is that it has always been inspired by the world we live in. It has become a part of culture itself, defining moments in history that can be traced back decades, centuries even. It has also been on the forefront and eventually has become a source of inspiration to many others. To continue to push the boundaries, be innovative and spark conversation and support movements, fashion should realistically reflect the diverse world we live in. Talent should be the only factor to considering who makes up a team and publications, both new and old, need to incite change not just by choosing a wide range of models but also a wide range of employees, right down to their interns.

It’s 2017 and it’s about time to close the diversity gap in fashion.

Culture, FashionHannah Agbeni