Kanye West, Yeezy Season 2
The conversation in the fashion world surrounding diversity has been amped up over the past few years, and despite a broadening market of international and multicultural consumers, it still seems that the people in charge still haven’t broadened their minds about what faces to cast. September in New York is Fashion Month. Showcasing the latest trends, it also highlights areas of concern as the industry’s problems with diversity, age and body acceptance also parade down the runway.
Recently Fashion Spot released its annual racial diversity statistics report (Figure 1), tracking the representation of models in runway and advertisement campaigns for the Spring 2016 season. It found, 78.2% of the models in Spring 2016 ads were white, which was a 6.5% point drop from Fall 2015’s numbers. Black models trailed at 8.3%, followed by Asian models at 4% and Latina models at 3.8%. Both black and Latina models were cast at approximately double the rate of the Fall 2015 season, when percentages read 4.4 for black models and only 1.7 for Latinas. (i)
While its noted that there has been an increase from last year, the numbers are still rather unsatisfying, and when compared to a report taken by jezebel.com comparing the statistics from 2008-2014 it seems that support for significant change is still far away thought. (Figure 2)
Figure 2: http://jezebel.com/new-york-fashion-week-diversity-talks-but-white-faces-1522416724
But the fashion magazine industry has an infamously poor history of foregrounding people of colour, often using their white readership demographic as an excuse for this inaction. That’s why when, in the January issue, Vogue editor and fashion powerhouse Anna Wintour announced efforts make the magazine’s coverage more inclusive, writing in the 2016 January Issue: “All of the many progressive societal changes that we have experienced recently are pointing us to a place of far greater inclusiveness, tolerance and diversity.” (iii) it seemed like finally the people in charge were beginning to listen.
Figure 3: American Vogue Covers January – September 2016
Having said that one would have thought the January issue where this statement was made would have been a perfect opportunity to put a person of colour on the cover along with this diversity initiative. Instead, the issue features a considerably tanned Alicia Vikander (a Swedish model) (figure 3). Vogue has since featured only one WOC this year with Rihanna taking the April cover, which means one out of nine covers in a year that started with a diversity letter – I’d say is a pretty poor effort.
Why does this all matter? Well because fashion is about desired aesthetics and when global brands, designers and magazines with worldwide influence celebrate, and therefore elevate, only white beauty, the trickle-down effect is a view of minority groups that are not seen as beautiful or worthwhile. Customers are drawn to great designers who have a point of view, but we have to ask ourselves at what stage does failing to acknowledge a globalised, multicultural market for the stake of “aesthetics” become indistinguishable from “being racist.” Along with people of colour, plus size, transgender and aged models continue to be underrepresented. There is still significant work to be done to eradicate that message of exclusion. Especially when we consider as model Ebonee Davis puts it, “Fashion makes people’s minds up about what is beautiful and acceptable. (iv)