Luxury fashion gets a wake-up call as the fight for diversity grows stronger! 2016’s Fashion Month witnessed a call for greater representation of models of colour and ethnic diversity.

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Anniesa Hasibaun’s Collection at New York Fashion Week 2016 (Roberts 2016).

New York welcomed the first ever Indonesian designer to ever present during the prestigious couture Fashion Week. Anniesa Hasibaun showcased her collection at the Moynihan Station and featured hijabs in every outfit of her collection, making history. The designer paired seductive materials like silk and sparkling gems with flattering feminine designs and soft pastel colours. As the models walked confidently down the runway, Hasibaun’s collection shined both aesthetically and conceptually. The show was well received and praised for the daring and inspiring move. The show ended with an audience standing ovation, again making history in luxury fashion (Roberts 2016).

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Ashley B. Chew: Black Models Matter Black Leather Tote Bag (Denardo 2016).

Also, inspiring change in luxury fashion was visual artist and emerging model, Ashley B. Chew (Ashleybchew.com 2016). Chew made a potent statement during the couture New York Fashion Week inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement. Chew, a now street style icon, paired a white singlet featuring a black square and the words ‘100% blackness,’ with a black leather tote bag which she had written the words, ‘Black Models Matter,’ in white paint. This sparked the trending hashtag, #BlackModelsMatter to go viral and make news around the world (Denardo 2016). 

Overall, there is a positive and growing improvement in the inclusion of diverse models  in luxury fashion and increasing criticism for brands that have made little efforts to acknowledge or actively change their ‘whitewashed’ practices. As seen for Valentino’s collection this season, who was criticised by the media for showcasing mostly White models with cornrow styled hair in an African-themed collection (Denardo 2016).

The brands that were rated the most diversity during Fashion Month were:

– Chromat (70%)
– Tracy Reese (60%)
– Sophie Theallet (60%)
– Martin Grant (50%)
– Rahul Mishra (50%).

The brands that were rated as the least multicultural during Fashion Month with only hiring two models of colour each (<7% diversity) were:

-Erdem
-Nina Ricci
-Roksanda
-Giorgio Armani
-Yves Saint Laurent

The brands that were completely exclusive (no diversity) were:

– Orla Kiely
– John Richmond
– Uma Wang
– Comme des Garçons
– Junya Watanabe
– David Laport
– Undercover
– Erin Fetherston

(Denardo 2016).

The total percentage of models of colour for the New York Fashion week increased from last year however the numbers are still low (24.4 % in 2015 to 28.4% in 2016). There’s still an overwhelming 71.6% of White models featured this year. Milan’s Fashion Week however, had the least diversity and showed 82.8% White models (Denardo 2016)The problem with this racial gap is because ‘the value attached to luxury is a crucial component in any society’s self-understanding’ and if a group is not represented/attached, society could discriminate and understand such a group as having less value (Ryan 2007, 10).

During the Spring 2016 Season, out of ‘373 shows and 9,926 model appearances from [Fashion Month] 77.6 percent of the…models were White’ (Denardo 2016).

The push for racial and ethnic diversity  in the luxury fashion industry is growing. However, with an overall 77.6% dominance of White models featured during Fashion Month this year, what is going to be done to ensure the fashion industry closes the gap? Will we start to see major brands become banned from showcasing during Fashion Month because of their ethnically and racially insensitive choices? Or will the fashion industry as a whole continue to pretend like it is exempt from the moral responsibilities to present ethical collections with transparent decision making?

Written by Sarah Channer.

References

Ryan, Nicky. 2007. Prada and the Art of Patronage, Fashion Theory. London: Routledge.

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