The fashion world has long come under fire for its apparent reluctance to embrace diversity. From my childhood, I remember Kate Moss and how heroin chic was the look of the catwalks. I also remember standing in front of the mirror trying to perfect the hollow cheeked look. There is no doubt that the fashion industry can influence how we view and feel about ourselves. 90s fashion was all about the pale skin and an emaciated frame. Back then, fashion was fascinated with white and very thin models. Diversity was definitely not in the 90s catwalk vocabulary. However, it is important to remember and to acknowledge where the heroin chic look derived from. It was an attempt to make the fashion world more real, to reveal a grittier side. They were trying to distance themselves from the 80s catwalk and the glossy hedonism of unachievable bodies in the shape of Cindy Crawford. 90s Heroin chic was an act of rebellion.
Has fashion forgotten the punchline?
It can’t be denied that this attempt to seek out a more real look for the catwalk ended up going too far. But that’s what fashion is all about - pushing the boundaries and experimenting. 90s heroin chic was supposed to be a joke, maybe a joke made in poor taste but with good intentions - the belief that the fashion world needed to be shaken up. Since then we have appeared to have forgotten the punchline for that joke. The slender models have remained, surpassing the millennium and now we have forgotten why the fashion world was so fascinated with thinness in the first place.
With the apparent reliance on models that were thin became a catwalk that lacked realism. Until recently it could be argued that we no longer had a catwalk that had moved with the times, it was no longer pushing boundaries. But the fashion world is finally waking up again and realising that now is the time for diversity. For many it has been a long time coming.
Set fashion free
We are living in a society that wants to break free from stereotypes. We want to embrace diversity and celebrate individuals for their differences. We want to see brands using models that represent us, that showcase everyday society. The fashion industry is embracing an inclusive future; one that celebrates men and women regardless of their shape, size, colour, sexual orientation or religion. We have recently seen the latest ‘Nothing Beats A Londoner’ campaign from Nike, in which diversity is brought to the forefront and celebrated. We have a 3 minute joyful film (which quickly went viral), championing and celebrating the spirit of 258 young Londoners. It is a film that revels in the capital’s diverse talent.
London Fashion Week recently celebrated the theme of health and diversity and as a result we saw glorious shows celebrating the beauty in diversity. London comes just after New York for how racially diverse their catwalks are. Figures from the September 2017 Fashion Week showed that 31% who walked the catwalk were non-white. However, the British Fashion Council would like to see that figure closer to 40%.
Designers like Mimi Tran are helping the London catwalks towards the 40% benchmark. Tran showcased her latest evening collection using a diverse range of models. It was a breath of fresh air to see her beautiful collection being brought to life by models that weren’t the usual bland stereo-types. We also had Ashish whose vibrant multicoloured “midnight market” catwalk saw him going back to his roots and celebrating immigrant communities. It was a stunning show that reflected British diversity.
Why is change happening now?
We now live in a culture where we can make our opinions known to millions of people at the drop of a tweet or Instagram post. We live in a society that isn’t afraid to question bad behaviour, it isn’t afraid to push against societal expectations. Social media means that we can make our voice heard and the fashion world is listening. We also have websites like The Fashion Spot in which we see them holding the fashion world accountable. For the past couple of years, they have been monitoring every Fashion Week and reporting on the race, size and gender of models. They also very helpfully let us know those designers and labels who are clearly championing diversity, and those who are not.
More than ever, consumers are taking a stand and making their feelings known. The result is that our 2017/2018 fashion shows have been the most diverse yet. The Fashion Spot reported that diversity and inclusivity seem to be very much on the rise and that, “plenty of diversity strides” were made. We are starting to witness a sea of positive change. Vogue, who had a shocking stretch of 14 years with only 6 non-white women on stand-alone covers, featured 6 women of colour in their December is-sue, this heralded a truly momentous moment for the fashion world.
We need to talk about plus-size
Yes, this is still very much a work in progress and there are still improvements to be made. Many magazines still lag behind when it comes to featuring models of colour on their covers, but we also need to talk about size. Spring 2018 saw a record number of plus-size models booked for the catwalk. However, this isn’t translating to the everyday. There is still a lack of plus-sized models gracing the front cover of our magazines. In 2016 less than 1% of magazines featured a model who was a size 12 or over. Disgraceful when you consider that the average size of a UK woman is a 16. The #MorePlusPlease campaign is aiming to change this statistic and bring more plus size women to the front covers of our magazines.
Work in progress
The fashion world does need to become more forward thinking and quickly if it isn’t going to continue to alienate the “average” woman. Research carried out by Simply Be found that 89% of British women believed that their body shape and size was not represented in modelling and advertising. 2017 saw real movement towards celebrating our bodies, recognising how beautiful and strong they are. We have brands like Dove who are recognising this change in consumer direction and recently ran a Dove campaign for real beauty. We had mummy bloggers sharing their bikini photos with C-section scars and stretch marks proudly on display. We also had the hashtag #LESSISMORE that was part of a petition created by eating dis-order survivor Erin Treloar. Her aim was to expose the fashion’s industry’s love for photoshopping everything, putting these unobtainable photos of supposed perfection in front of our eyes. A similar point was made by Hayley Hasselhoff who protested outside the London Fashion Week hub in February, calling for more curves to be seen on the catwalk.
New York leads the wave of change
We have to recognise the efforts that are being made in order to read-dress the balance. New York Fashion Week strode ahead with its efforts for the spring/summer 2018 shows. They had 45 transgender models, four non-binary models and 27 models over 50 years of age on the catwalk. New York shows that we are moving in the right direction but it’s hardly full on marching, just yet. Some of the fashion labels might want to pay attention to Chromat who stands head and shoulders above everyone else when it comes to diversity on the runway. Their autumn 2018 runway show was a pure masterclass in being inclusive. We saw models from all genders, ages and sizes strutting their stuff. The result? A dynamic and joyful show featuring women that the audience could relate to. In response, the audience actively participated and cheered every woman down the catwalk. The Chromat show was fashion at its finest, fearless, bold and breaking down barriers whilst still being inclusive. This was a fashion show that shouted from the soul and spoke to the heart.
Fashion should carry on working towards becoming more inclusive. We need to ensure that it isn’t purely done as a token gesture. It’s time for fashion to leave its exclusive values behind and look forward to becoming more inclusive. Right now, the fashion world still has its flaws but nobody or nothing is ever perfect. However, fashion is not as flawed as it once was. The future of fashion looks very exciting. We can finally bury the waif like clones, we can close the door on the boring stereotypes and finally welcome a new fashion era. The world of fashion is changing for the better and we are on the cusp of something new.
What can we do to help?
As consumers we must ensure that the diversity movement doesn’t falter. We shouldn’t settle until diversity has become the industry norm. For my two daughters, I want a fashion industry that empowers, inspires and embraces body positivity. Most of all I want the fashion world to recognise that one look doesn’t fit all.
Fashion is redefining, it’s looking to the future.