Variety Is The Spice Of Life: The Memo That Bypasses Fashion Weeks

Collage by Aylea Skye/ Original Images by Unknown Sources

Collage by Aylea Skye/ Original Images by Unknown Sources

Fashion Month has come to end. 

After weeks of designers showcasing their latest Autumn/Winter creations to publications, influencers and fashion enthusiasts across the four major cities (New York, London, Milan and Paris) its doors are shut until next season comes around. Models, both new faces and those familiar to the industry walk the shows, bringing the collections to life and helping to further establish each designers’ vision. For many, fashion month is as much about the models as it is about the collections. Writers scour the shows not only for trends but looking to crown the newest “It” model, cataloguing standout runway walks, distinctive looks and a fun personality as criteria. It’s safe to say that the models in a show represent the brand. So what does a designer’s choice of models say about fashion as a whole?

Fashion has a deep, complicated relationship with diversity. For the longest time, the face of fashion has had one look (think tall, white and slim with sharp European features). This look has served fashion well, with designers choosing to ignore models of colour and instead of featuring predominately white women - save for a black or Asian model that serves as an exception to the rule. As the need for diversity is stronger than ever, the fashion industry has had to change the norms in order to keep up. This season marks just a few of those moments that represent this change.

In Milan, Anok Yai became known as the second black model to open a Prada show in 20 years since Naomi Campbell in 1997. Also, for the first time in over two decades, black models walked the runway as part of the Comme des Garçons’ show in Paris, with Nigerian model Ruth Ayodele opening the Autumn/Winter 18 show. The last time the Japanese brand featured a black model at one of its shows was at the 1994 Autumn/Winter show with Chrystèle Saint Louis Augustin.

Although this is cause for major celebration in what are career-defining moments for these young black models, the question that needs to be asked is, why has it taken so long for this to happen? Will we have to wait another 20 years for another black model to open for a luxury fashion house, making her the “third, fourth or fifth”, all while congratulating fashion brands for hiring her despite being around for over a century. 

What these historical moments in fashion do is highlight how out of touch the industry can be and the massive gap between inspiration taken from other cultures (that is woven into the designs and the show) versus the number of models hired from those cultures (see Marc Jacobs Spring/Summer 17 hair “inspiration”).

In an effort to put to rest the idea that there is a shortage of models of colour is moremodelsofcolor. The Instagram account showcases and celebrates thousands of models of colour from all ethnic backgrounds, both popular and less known to its following of 15.1k (and counting). The account serves a direct response to the lack of diversity during each fashion week with statistics demonstrating that this is still a problem. 

For example, the Dior Autumn/Winter 2018 show only features 13 models of colour (21%) in contrast to 48 white models (79%). In 2017, Gucci’s Autumn/Winter show only featured 17 models of colour, out of 119. After recording statistics from 266 shows and 8258 appearances, The Fashion Spot in its seasonal Diversity Report shows that for the SS18 shows, castings for non-white models stood at 30.2%, an increase of 2.3% from the year before. This is the highest it has ever been, at only 30.2%.

These statistics help demonstrate how hard it is for models of colour.  In her open letter to other models of colour, model Amelia Rami expresses these sentiments and goes on to describe that it’s typical to not get booked at all for a season or to only get a major booking as a “diversity fill”. 

With 2018 being one of the most diverse years in fashion, it would be fair to say that some brands have embraced this solely for profit. Fashion is a business after all. One that not only needs financial gain but also media exposure and support. Diversity is in and it's one of the most profitable things a brand can be, so many have adopted this to remain relevant. Consider comments like those from casting director James Scully in 2008 where he explicitly mentions that ‘the trend is toward the white girl’ as to why model Lakshmi Menon didn’t get booked much at New York. To what extent is hiring more models of colour a marketing tool?

It’s clear that fashion week (and fashion as a whole) has come a long way, however, lest we not forget that a mere three years ago, the percentage of white models stood between 80-83% at the Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter shows. The onus remains on the creative directors, designers, casting directors to progress and not digress.

As British designer, Ashish says ‘Fashion should represent people in real life’, which is something I think we can all agree on.

FashionHannah Agbeni