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On Fashion Week And Diversity: Has Anything Changed?

We examine different reports and several notable mentions to see if the recent fashion weeks are keeping up with the growing movement of diversity inclusion.

The fashion industry is oft accused of existing in its own bubble, a separate universe, and in even blunter terms, ignorant. Of the many issues that it has been associated with, the most commonly brought up due to its urgency and escalating relevance in today’s troubled world is diversity. Representation. Inclusion.

The discussion on diversity covers different demographics: age, gender identity, ethnicity and size with the latter two being the more controversial ones. It has been so for decades, but now with television, movies and even print fashion taking steps to be more inclusive, it seems only natural that the runways, the very platform that has had more than its fair share of criticism when it comes to casting models of different ethnicities and sizes, should follow suit. Has it? Does it still?

To quote Anna Wintour, who made the following remark in relation to London Fashion Week during the Spring 2018 season: “The English designers still seem to very much in love with the idea of a very thin girl. And the idea that 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.”

There is, of course, truth in the matter. Let’s look at ethnicity. In a study conducted by The Fashion Spot – their research was based solely on the shows in New York – 37.3 percent of the models at New York Fashion Week were women of colour. Not quite halfway, though still a reasonable increase from the 20.9 percent in 2015. For brands like Jeremy Scott, Alexander Wang and Brandon Maxwell, women of colour were the majority at over 65 percent. Size representation in New York, however, was at 1.1 percent with majority of such models appearing at Chromat and Christian Siriano. Michael Kors and Prabal Gurung featured a plus-sized model each, specifically Ashley Graham.

What of representation in the other cities? New York, unfortunately, surpassed the rest. In a separate study by Flare, women of colour were at 34.5 percent in London, 26.5 percent in Paris and 24.1 percent in Milan. It should be noted, however, that Prada – which showed in Milan – sent all abuzz for casting Anok Yai, a black woman, as their opening model. Women of colour made up approximately 30 percent of the show, reasonably higher than the city’s count as a whole.

While reports on size representation for the London, Milan and Paris legs have yet to be released, next to none made headlines in this respect save for Alexander McQueen and the casting of the curvier Dutch model Betsey Deske. (She walked for McQueen last season as well.) Europe, there’s more than some ways to go.

Now, let’s take things a little closer to home ground. While Asian models are a fairly common sight on the runways these days, those of South Asian and Southeast Asian origins are rare – until this season, that is. For the first time in what seems to be a long, long time, Singaporean models seem to be making their way back to the big stage with as many as three walking at Milan Fashion Week, the most notable being Layla Ong at Gucci. Three may not sound like much in comparison to the other nationalities and ethnicities, but for a country that is often overlooked in the fashion circuit, this writer – born and raised in Singapore, #represent – considers it a big win.

Clearly, things have changed, but at the rate at which representation is evolving outside the fashion bubble, the conclusion stands that the runways are not keeping up fast enough, especially the representation of different body types. In an age where Barbie no longer comes in just one size and curvy models front sportswear campaigns, one would think that the runways would take strides away from the “ideal” sample size, and not baby steps. Still, with more and more influential platforms being more aware of the issues that plague the runway, hoping is not futile – awareness is the first step to change. We, along with countless in the industry, have our eyes and scoreboards ready for the next season.

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