A Lesson In Diversity From This Year’s Fashion Month

Does Fashion Month’s most inclusive season to date finally signify the industry’s acceptance of a multi-faceted beauty?

Christian Siriano’s SS18 collection at New York Fashion Week. Photo Credit: Victor Virgile/Getty Images.

When Christian Siriano began envisioning the set for his SS18 show in New York, he was certain of one thing: every potential consumer should be represented on his runway. “This season I wanted to show that it’s not only about size,” Siriano told Glamour in an interview that ran before September’s show in New York.

“It’s also about colour, race, and gender. … If you’re out shopping and you love a dress, it doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl or whatever.”

Siriano has long been known for his important lessons in inclusivity, but this year’s cast felt like the most effortless and genuine celebration of diversity to date. Siriano runway veteran Coco Rocha opened the show, followed by male model Austin K, in a look that not only challenged gendered dressing, but completely demolished it. Then came some of the industry’s top ‘plus-size’ models (a term I find particularly awful as well as nonsensical, but nonetheless industry-accepted): Marquita Pring, Candice Huffine, Jocelyn Corona, Precious Lee, Sabina Karlsson, and more. Transgender model Avie Acosta made an appearance several looks later, followed by male model Joel Wolfe, whose cropped hoodie read ‘We all grow in the same garden.’

Model Joel Wolfe wearing a hoodie reading ‘We all grow in the same garden,’ at Christian Sirano’s SS18 show in New York. Photo credit: Yannis Vlamos / Indigital.tv.

Sirano’s inclusive runway should be something of the norm, but only now is the industry beginning to define diversity as something more meaningful than a couple of token non-white faces.

As the Spring 2018 season came to a close, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour observed that diversity on the runways finally felt like the rule, not the exception: “It was a giant step forward,” she said.

“And I hope that those that did not follow suit will now recognize that fashion has a responsibility to be in step with the times and not persist in portraying a one-note way of looking at women.”

Wintour is right, the wealth of women on this year’s New York fashion week felt ground-breaking in terms of representation. In fact, according to the Fashion Spot’s latest diversity report, this Spring 2018 season was more diverse than ever. Runways during New York, London, Paris and Milan Fashion Week showcased more older women, transgender women, women of colour and women of different body shapes and sizes than we’ve ever seen on the runway.

Edeline Lee’s SS18 presentation during London Fashion Week. Photo Credit: Jeff Spicer/BFC/Getty Images

Canadian fashion designer Edeline Lee embraced the hijab during her London presentation and Anniesa Hasibuan featured hijabs in every outfit of her collection showed in New York. For Rejina Pyo’s debut runway show in London, half of the cast members were non-models. The line-up was sourced via an open casting call for ‘confident, unique and inspiring women of ALL ethnicities and ALL ages,’ and included artist Conie Vallese and creative director Maria Lemos. At Eckhaus Latta, the pregnant artist Maia Ruth walked the runway in a buttoned-down lavender cardigan-dress, revealing her beautifully full baby bump. Instagram went wild for the mumma-to-be.

Photo Credit: Refinery 29

In 2017, we can finally say that the conversation surrounding inclusivity on the runway is flourishing, and positive, tangible strides are being made towards appropriate and needed representation. Fashion is finally taking diversity seriously.

There is the question though, of whether this season’s diverse casts signal the industry’s long-awaited wakening to equality, or if it’s merely another phase, prompted by the current times. Some might even suggest it’s nothing other than point-scoring, or Instagram-bait in an era where, thanks to social media, models have a voice to hold designers and casting agents accountable for inclusivity on the runway.

The constant, albeit gradual, move to better representation speaks – optimistically – otherwise. This season’s fashion month was not merely a one-off. There certainly seems to be a wide-spread theme of inclusivity bubbling up through the industry’s patently white, homogenous veneer.

Edward Enninful’s first edition of British Vogue – December 2017 – stars mixed-race British model and feminist activist Adwoa Aboah on its cover, sending a clear message that the new editor intends to engage in the bubbling conversation surrounding diversity.

Edward Enninful’s first issue as editor of British Vogue. Photograph: Steven Meisel/Vogue.

In the last year, Aboah has also featured on the covers of Vogue Mexico, Vogue Italia, i-D and bi-annual magazine Love. And she’s not alone in the charge for greater inclusivity. Aussie model Adut Akech, who happened to close the Saint Laurent show in Paris this season, is the current face of David Jone’s beauty campaign. This year’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in Shanghai will see eight Chinese models walk the iconic runway, double the number that walked last year. Trans model Hari Nef has recently teamed up with US Vogue to make beauty videos. Bombing survivor Adrianne Haslet, who lost one leg, burst onto the modelling scene last season when she modelled in Toronto Women’s Fashion Week and Halima Aden made history earlier this year as the first hijab-wearing model to walk the runway.

It’s important not to exaggerate the level of progress, however. While the fashion spot reported an increase in runway diversity, white models still made up a whopping 69.8% of castings. For US Vogue’s 125th anniversary September 2017 issue, Jennifer Lawrence starred on all four covers, beside the title ‘American Beauty.’ If, in 2017, American beauty is still considered being white, fair, slim and heterosexual, what does it say for other groups of American women hoping to make it in the industry, or even, just wanting to feel beautiful? Part of progression must be this dissolution of crass labelling. There has got to be a clear message that there isn’t just one single kind of beauty.

Photo Credit: Vogue

Of course, when it comes to the kind of representation that accounts for all consumers, this first push is important, but it’s the ongoing practice of inclusive casting that will result in an industry where race, dress size, gender, age, religion and ability are all represented.

We might be a while away from dropping tokenistic labels, but hopefully these changes, however small, will begin to disrupt the industry’s narrow view of ‘beauty.’ After all, there should be nowhere better to find a beautiful packaged example of the zeitgeist than with the models of the moment.