As far as fashion conversations go, diversity isn’t a novel concept that suddenly needed discussing in 2017. Minorities have been fighting for representation in fashion for more than a while, moreover since fashion began. Be that in campaigns or on the catwalk, or even just being able to purchase a matching colour of foundation – queue praise for Fenty Beauty. Looking at show images, both older and more current, it’s all too commonplace to see parades of slender, young, white models traipsing down the runway or staring down from upon their billboards. Yet in more recent years, there have been more and more attention-grabbing headlines claiming that “this season has the highest levels of diversity we’ve seen”; New York, in particular, received praise this SS18. We decided to do some investigating of our own, taking on board the facts and figures to see just how diverse the runway has become, and whether there’s any substance behind the headlines.
If you head over to The Fashion Spot website, you’ll see the usual suspects present on the menu bar: Style, Beauty, Celeb etc.. But the site’s USP comes in the form of their Diversity Report section, proudly sat amongst them top row. TFS has been reporting on the diversity of shows, adverts and magazine covers since 2014, and its where many of their big media counterparts find their diversity statistics. One of the most recent reports pertains to Fall 2017 advertisements, which announces that for the first time ever ads were more inclusive than runways. Global fashion campaigns included 30.4% non-white models, a 5.9% rise from Spring 2017 and the largest increase since their records began. Looking at the much-praised NYFW for SS18, you see they are the pulling the percentage up as 36.9% of models were women of colour, the highest number to date with every show including at least two non-white models (this was only one last season). In addition, four of the 11 highest booked models were women of colour, again an increase.
When you look back at articles over the past five years, there is undoubtedly a positive increase in model diversity. But progress is taking its time and not everyone is quick to offer a more representative image, and as the previous paragraph suggests there are also variances from city to city. However, we should not diminish the changes we have seen. The likes of Marc Jacobs, Ashish, and Helmut Lang were leaders of the pack this season all commended for their highly inclusive line-ups. Indeed, over 50% of the models at Marc Jacobs were non-white. Supermodel Naomi Campbell recently spoke out in Elle magazine, stating that she hopes “that it's not going to disappear”, rightly arguing that the inclusion of more non-white models should not just be a passing trend. You can understand her concern, cultural appropriation has been another widely discussed topic in 2017 with designers accused of capitalising on other cultures, particularly black culture. Campbell went on to say “I now want to see whether it's going last or whether they'll move onto something else.” To speak optimistically, the season on season increase, even if it is still small at the moment, is hopefully a sign that a homogenised fashion industry will one day be a thing of the past.
The term diversity, of course, does not only refer to race. In fact, Campbell touches on this too, stating we want to see women of “all colours, shapes and sizes.” This year NYFW had 90 plus size models, and though this may still only attribute 3.46% of total models, rewind to Fall 2016 and there were a mere 4 plus size models altogether. New York is certainly leading the way again in this arena, SS17 saw the city jump from 4 to 16 plus size model while Europe failed to include any curvier physiques at any of their shows. These numbers sound even more alarming when you consider more than half of women in the US are size 14 or above, and 1 in 5 clothing purchases in the UK are plus-sized. As an agency IMG, who represents Ashley Graham, have been championing the inclusion of curvier physiques. In 2014, having signed Graham alongside four other plus-sized models, IMG Senior Vice President and Managing Director Ivan Bart stated: “For us, as long as the talent is at a healthy weight that he or she and his or her doctor believe is right for them, and they’re exercising, since that’s a healthy way of life, then the industry should reflect that.” 2017 has also seen a new charter come into play between luxury conglomerates LVMH and Kering eliminating the use of size zero models by any of their houses. Though this does not mean that we will see a sudden migration away from traditionally slender models, it does see two heavily influential fashion players put the health and well-being of models centre stage, which could prove key in prompting a more varied line-up in the future.
Older models, those of transgender identity and those with disabilities continue to be under-represented on the catwalk, but again we are seeing some progress – little by little. It is predicted that by 2018 there will be 20 million over-55s in the UK; a consumer group commanding a huge amount of spending power. Brands are slowly waking up to the fact that their own image needs to reflect that of their consumer and that pertains to all aforementioned characteristics. Maye Musk made headlines in September when she was announced as the latest CoverGirl at age 69, and received a great public response. Vanessa Redgrave featured in Gucci’s Cruise 2017 campaign age 79, and Susan Sarandon, 69, Sissy Spacek, 66 and Courtney love, 52 are all part of Marc Jacobs’s FW17 campaign. And who can forget Joan Didion, aged 80, who starred in Celine’s sunglasses campaign? This season also saw Theodora “Teddy” Quinlivan, a now established face on the catwalk (she was the 12th most cast model for SS18) announce to the world that she is in fact transgender. This is an incredible step for the trans community, who continue to be the least represented within fashion. For Fall 2017, they accounted for a mere 0.17% of models across the four capitals, equating to 12 models total. This was a record high number. Quinlivan received well-wishes and praise from near enough all mainstream media, the public and her agency. When speaking about her decision she referred to the privilege of being perceived as a cis-female, and the confidence it gave her in both her personal and professional life and having been limited on transgender role models. It was this lacking that appears to have motivated her, "There are not a lot of openly trans people in media, and I think it's really important to show people that not only am I trans; I'm (also) very successful and good at what I do." Undoubtedly becoming the role model she lacked to trans individuals everywhere.
An interesting observation is that yes, there may appear to be a disparity between the mounting headlines claiming “fashion is finally embracing diversity” and the still heavily euro-centric beauty preference demonstrated by the statistics. But, the fact that the headlines are so dominating in nature and growing in number, demonstrates the general interest and desire for diversity to be discussed. The public is clearly interested in hearing about and ultimately seeing a more representative fashion industry, an industry that should be catering to all those that invest in it. The brands that are progressing in this way are continually applauded for their efforts, Marc Jacobs, in particular, has been referenced for his inclusivity – a bounce back from the criticism pertaining to SS17 show, where his dreadlocked models were deemed racially insensitive. But as Naomi’s statement highlights, brands should not see this inclusivity as a means of creating or following a trend. Tokenism is not a means to execute change, and diversity should not be fetishized, inclusion needs to be sustainable and not just a box ticked for a season. Brands need to be both open-minded and mindful when making executive decisions and choosing their cast. Models do more than wear clothes, they define beauty standards, and as such brands and the industry at large have a social responsibility to promote a positive self-image for all races, ages, sizes, abilities, and identities. The issue runs deeper than the public face of fashion, it is something that all of fashion needs to embrace as a community. As is evident from the progress so far, change unfortunately won’t happen overnight but there are more and more success stories happening slowly that deserve their column/HTML inches. An exciting prospect is the change expected at British Vogue under Enniful’s reign. The first black editor of the Conde Nast owned magazine, honoured for his for services to diversity in fashion last year, has vowed to embrace diversity changing Vogue from the inside. When speaking about his recent campaign for Gap, he stated: “A cast of varying genders, sexuality, religions, ages and backgrounds – to me this is the world we live in and the world we should see.” Rather than continuing to point fingers, hopefully steps like Enniful’s appointment, James Scully’s whistle-blowing on model mistreatment, attitudes like IMG’s Ivan Bart and the array of emerging young talent can help unite an industry still battling with archaic stereotypes and accelerate the positive changes that the world not only needs but deserves to see.
They don’t say variety is the spice of life for nothing.