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Are we finally seeing diversity on global fashion catwalks?

Fashion runways – not somewhere widely known for being inclusive or diverse. But are the times finally changing? Heidi Quill discusses.

Are catwalks finally becoming more inclusive? 

For a long time now, catwalks have been an exclusive home to the elite. The fashion world has been incredibly slow to address its issues surrounding diversity; in most respects, it is still lacking. However, is inclusiveness is now being recognised, albeit slowly, across the fashion hot spots of the world?

Perhaps the most infamous spokesman for this is iconic supermodel Naomi Campbell, who has been outspoken on this matter both out-loud and in her work. In an interview for Channel 4 News in 2012 she declared “I’m not calling them racist” but “the act of not choosing models of colour is racist”, also revealing that 82% of models on the New York Fashion Week runways in 2012 were white, 6% black and 9% Asian – a staggering inconsistency. Campbell even reveals that she believes this has deteriorated since she was at her most present in the industry, declaring that nearly 30 years ago ‘there was a great balance’ and that she believes now designers hide behind a concept and ‘aesthetic’.

An iconic piece of work on this matter was produced by Nick Knight, featuring Naomi Campbell. The fashion photographer produced a short film, showing Campbell shooting machine guns at the camera intercut with text, some of which read; “The reality today is that black models are virtually underrepresented in fashion. To find a solution we need to see that there is a problem. The business people that ultimately control fashion have a moral responsibility that they must not ignore. Profit cannot be a justification for bigotry and racism.”

Thankfully, it would seem that her campaign was not in vain, with London Fashion Week AW17 becoming the most inclusive on record, featuring new model Halima Aden walking the runway in a hijab for MaxMara and a larger range of women of colour seen on the main fashion week runways than ever before. Creative director of Max Mara, Ian Griffiths, said that this choice was simply a reflection of reality, and the probability that on any “top-end shopping street, it would be no surprise to see a Max Mara coat worn with a hijab”.

And it didn’t end there – brands such as Dolce & Gabbana, Michael Kors, and J.Crew were seen to have cast models of a wide variety of ages and sizes too, with women older than 65 featured, as well as those larger than the typical sample size. Editor-in-chief of The Fashion Spot, Jennifer Davidson, reflects on this sense of progression saying that “when we first began, we were really talking about the use of non-white models, but in recent seasons, there’s a lot more talk about size, age, and transgender.”

A few years previous at New York Fashion Week AW15 for FTL Moda, disabled models graced the runway for the first time ever in a collection entitled ‘Loving You’, with model Jamie Brewer becoming the first model with Down syndrome to walk a New York Fashion Week catwalk and Jack Eyer’s becoming the world’s first male amputee to do the same. However, disabled models are yet to be fully integrated into catwalks.

We may still be a bit behind, but the fashion world is taking steps to catch up: the most recent runways of the four most famous Fashion Week’s were considered the most racially diverse. However, they were still lacking in age range and body diversity. This debate will not go away until things have changed. The world of fashion seems, unfortunately, to be one of flippancy. But as Campbell herself says ‘we are not a trend’.


Heidi Quill

Heidi is a freelance non-fiction writer, specialising in fashion-related journalism and gender theory. Heidi originally started writing as a form of self-help and escapism from a series of mental health issues, and that angle of self-love flows throughout her writing.

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