Although racial diversity is ever so slightly on the rise, and during 2016 we’re expected to see more non-white models appear in fashion shows, it’s still shocking to find that, in the 21st century, diversity is often disregarded; especially in such a prestigious and worldwide industry, that is fashion.
Ethnic minorities are not the only disproportionately represented groups in the fashion world – there’s also a shortage of models with disabilities and plus sized figures. Both of which are seemingly overlooked or completely ignored when it comes to casting for fashion shows. This evident use of predominantly white, tall, slim, non-disabled models in the fashion industry excludes many people from feeling apart of the modern day perception of beauty.
“Diversity innovation has begun and some in the fashion industry have woken up to the influence they can choose to have if they want to operate as enlightened practitioners.” – Caryn Franklin
Dior and Victoria Beckham, alike many other major fashion labels, have often been accused of ‘runway racism’. It has been speculated that their choice to use mostly (if not all) white models in their fashion shows is a deliberate one. YSL has also been critiqued in recent years for not diversifying their model choice.
Balmain, on the other hand, is currently being widely celebrated across all aspects of social media for their diverse choice of models featuring in both catwalk shows and campaigns, as a result of Olivier Rousteing taking over the position of creative director at the prestigious French fashion house in 2011.
Plus-sized models have almost always been a topic of discussion, often being treated with ignorance. In late 2014 Myla Dalbesio starred in a Calvin Klein ‘plus-sized’ campaign. She was a size-10 model and exemplified the controversy that surrounded so called ‘plus sized’ models. The campaign caused outrage amongst the general public and actual plus-size women. It highlighted fashion’s beauty standards as being impossibly high, by implying even plus-size models need to be slim to be considered beautiful. The campaign excluded ‘in-between’ sizes from having a place in the industry. Even Myla herself, publicly claimed feeling uncomfortable about not fitting in to the fashion industry’s stereotypes, “I call myself plus-size, but I know I’m not” , the American model explained.
In 2014, Diesel’s ‘We are connected’ ad campaign featured disabled model Jillian Mercado. The following February saw actress Jamie Brewer (a fellow sufferer of down syndrome) appear at New York fashion week, walking for designer Carrie Hammer. Breaking Bad actor RJ Mitte, whom, like his character on the show, has mild cerebral palsy, walked for non other than Vivienne Westwood in June 2015. These examples prove that the fashion world is becoming more progressive and inclusive of the 15% of the worldwide population that inhabit disabilities. However. Despite these few instances, it still seems to be a rarity to see disabled models appear in fashion. There has been endless pressure for more disabled models to be recognised in the fashion industry; but as it stands, we’re far from seeing fashion powerhouses such as Chanel or Gucci using disabled models in their fashion shows.
The fashion industry is genuinely showing real signs of moving forth from its foundations of skinny, white, “perfect” models – but that’s not to say there isn’t still a long way to go. A very long long way to go. Hopefully, in the near future, all forms of diversity will be celebrated across the fashion industry.