As I exit my work in fashion I feel it necessary to discuss one of the things that both inspired me to pursue the industry and encouraged my exit.
Like many attributes in American culture, there is this often unaddressed idea that Fashion belongs to a singular Eurocentric audience. That it is created to fit, sale to, please, reflect, and inspire a set group of people. White people. Not all white people, but the idealized girl who is a size 2, has a perfect nose, silky straight hair, just the right amount of butt and boobs, shops only designer, and arrives everywhere by car.
The painfully obvious lack of diversity in fashion to those conscious of its messaging is frankly off putting and surprisingly unacknowledged by the majority of members working in the industry. The truth is most members moving the fashion train forward don’t see a problem with current imagery, and consequently see no reason in changing anything. The most recent example of diversity controversy is brought to you by the Misha Runway Collection . During Australia’s Fashion Week the team at Misha felt the perfect way to end their show would be to send an ensemble of all white models led by Bella Hadid down the runway to the tune of Beyonce’s ‘Formation’, a song created in glaring celebration of Black women. A quick Google search on ‘Formation’ and it’s meaning will provide you with a host of articles examining the song and pointing to it’s support for Black feminism. Somehow this element was completely lost on those responsible for casting and production of this show. With knowledge of how fashion show productions go, it’s reasonable to assume PR might not have been involved until very late in the execution process, but SOMEONE, ANYONE, should have called out how this might not bode will for Misha. Maybe they’re aim was to cause controversy, but it’s annoying, and old, and honestly a bit careless at this point.
From runways, to campaigns, fashion editorials and directors at model castings the efforts against diversity seem to prevail. The system is flawed from the top down with those who influence the trends we see ignoring the importance of showing beauty and style in all of its different shades. Working in fashion allowed me to see the unfortunate practices first hand. In a model casting for one our clients the brand’s internal Director of Marketing and Brand Management adamantly rejected a preferred, more established, breath-takingly beautiful Black model for an honestly mediocre white blonde model because the latter model “fit the brands image, She was the Brands Name’s girl”. Even after threats from the lead stylist on the shoot to pull out of the project completely the brand risked loosing the stylist to reaffirm that a Black girl with a natural fro could not represent the brand in a 10 page look book. Although I’d like to believe lots of logical factors weighed into the decision in choosing the white model over the other I couldn’t help but to be frustrated with the idea that a Black model could not be seen as ‘the girl’ this brand represents/ aims to target. Is it to be assumed that girls that looks like her wouldn’t be interested in the everyday fashion items provide by the brand? Would her presence prevent stylists and editors (the predominant audience for look books in Fashion PR) from calling in samples? It seems silly to even have to wonder.
Providing just a glimpse of hope a few industry notables like Bethann Hardison, Naomi Campbell, Iman and most recently Zac Posen have taken notice and dare to speak out against the industry’s tendency to overlook. Bethann, Naomi, and Iman have together formed the Diversity Coalition ; which has made a point to call out designers when their campaigns and runways lack diverse models. The organization has also created a Diversity guideline to help brands lean towards proper representation and inclusion. Inspired by model Ashley Chew’s “Black Models Matter” handbag, Zac Posen rocked the bag on his instagram which was picked up and covered by outlets like Refinery, and Fashionista. Did I mention Ashley went to my Master’s Alma matter Kent State?! Very cool. I triumph every time I see these glimpses of hope, these disruptions of what’s considered to be Fashion.
Now that I’ve started my new chapter in the nation’s capital, significantly removed from the fashion capital I’m brainstorming new ways to do some disruption from a far. I feel a DC’s Black Fashion Mafia(C) brewing….