“I don’t think there’s enough done to promote diversity in the fashion industry. It’s all very well having a token black girl here and there but I really wanted to make a statement. You know, if a designer has all white girls in their show, nobody asks for the reasons behind the casting, which I think is really strange. We live in a multi-cultural society. London is one of the most amazing multi-cultural cities and I just feel that needs to be represented in fashion.”
These were the words of London based designer Ashish Gupta following his Spring Summer 2015 show. Along with all the usual glitz and glamour one has come to expect from show season, diversity, or rather the lack of it has become an all too familiar topic of conversation.This is an issue that has been embedded within each part of the industry for many years. A models height, weight, gender and ethnicity are as widely discussed as the clothes that they wear. Ashish was one of a few designers to break away from the ‘conventional’ all or mostly Caucasian model line-up this past show season. A statement that some herald as been a ‘breath of fresh air’.
For all its faults when it comes to diversity, the fashion industry has had a few moments of change. In March of 1966 model Donyale Luna became the first model of colour to grace the front cover of British Vogue. With American Vogue following suit in August 1974 with Beverly Johnson on their respective front cover. During the supermodel era of the 90s models such as Veronica Webb and Naomi Campbell were among some of the best models who had become household names with Webb becoming the first model of colour to land a beauty contract with Revlon and Campbell walking the runways for the likes of Versace. In 2008 British model Jourdan Dunn became the first model of colour to walk for Prada in over a decade.
The lack of diversity is not only shown towards Black models but also Asian models as well. Again there has been some notable ground breaking moments to mention such as Fei Fei Sun becoming the first Asian model to be on the front cover of Italian vogue and Liu Wen, the first Asian model to be the face of a Western cosmetic company. They too are gracing the catwalks or New York, London, Milan and Paris and taking the industry by storm one season at a time. But some might say that more can be done, just last year the blog Jezebel published a report flowing New York Fashion Week A/W ’13, stating that over 80% of models used were Caucasian, 9.1% Asian and only 6% Black. That same year Iman, Naomi Campbell and Bethann Hardison called for Organisers and designers of the four major fashion weeks to stop the lack of diversity saying that when she was starting out “there was a great balance of models and colour”.
So how can an industry that is forever changing still be so far behind? Some may say the fault lays with the casting directors, for they are the ones who pick the models for the shows and campaigns. But not all casting directors are one sided in this on crusade for diversity. In an article from March Last year, casting director Barbara Nicoli, who has worked with Burberry and Gucci to name a few stated that “We had some seasons with beautiful, amazing Asian girls, and we would like to use all of them — and some seasons there are less. Same goes with black girls. I don’t think it can be more or less politically correct to put a certain percentage of black girls just because they are black and [not to think about] their body, shape, or beauty.”
This is an industry built on new talents and ideas, it moves at the speed of light, bringing around new trends and names every six months for us to covert and lust over. It’s fully embracing all of things unique and is never shy of making a statement on things that need to be heard. On this all too familiar conversation of diversity however there is still room for improvement.
Written by Michaela Hoyte. Images as per caption.