Everyone has been talking about diversity in the fashion industry lately, as if it's a given thing. But does it really exist yet? This year marked the first in an epic 12 years that British Vogue has featured a solo black model on their cover. That model was Jourdan Dunn, whose impressive career to date should have seen her land that coveted spot years ago.
The 24-year-old model, who last year became the first black British model to enter the Forbes models rich list tweeted about the opportunity: "I'm so Happy to finally say I'M ON THE COVER OF BRITISH VOGUE!!! Thank you @britishvogue, Patrick Demarchelier and Kate Phelan for making this happen and also thank you all for the Love and Support it means everything to me #2015YearOfTheDunn". Preceded way back in 2002 by Naomi Campbell, it certainly begs the question why so many of us continue to mistake this kind of equality as a given. It is disappointing to see that institutions such as Vogue still have not come to grips with the fact that we live in a multicultural world, but to be fair, Vogue is not alone in this regard.
According to Jezebel, when The Fashion Spot surveyed 44 major print publications in 2014, "they found that of the 611 total covers, white models (referring to anyone on the cover, not necessarily a model by profession) were featured on 567 of them, while models of color ("categorized as those who appear to be nonwhite or of mixed backgrounds") only appeared on 119 covers". This kind of racial discrimination seems so out-of-date today in 2015, but unfortunately the whitewash remains the norm and the representation of non-white models the exception.
Beyond just magazines, the representation of non-white models on catwalks is similarly miserable. According to Jezebel: "New York Fashion Week for Fall/Winter 2014 might have brought fresh styles, but the faces weren't anything new. After crunching the numbers on 148 shows, we can report that of 4,621 looks, only 985 were worn by models of color. That means that of all the models who walked this past week, 78.69% of them were white." Some designers like Tocca had entirely white casts that season, while major players like Calvin Klein included just two models of colour for his presentation.
On the other side of this, though, are designers like Diane von Furstenberg, Ohne Titel, and Zac Posen, who tend to hire diverse casts for their shows season after season. Shayne Olivier's label Hood by Air is another progressive one within the industry. Each of their campaigns and presentations consistently blur the lines between not just race, but also gender and sexuality. "Of course a lot of people are underrepresented in fashion," photographer and Hood By Air casting director Kevin Amato recently told i-D. "I did an editorial maybe five years ago for a big house and I shot all black boys and the house banned me from shooting their clothes for the whole season." But Amato believes that things are changing. "Now I look and I see diversity. It's what everybody is doing. It's quite brilliant," he says. Certainly, things are improving, but it just isn't happening fast enough, leaving the fashion industry a bit behind as far as positive social change goes.
This argument goes far beyond just race of course, with gross misrepresentation also taking place in regards to both gender and body type. Catalogue recently reported about Australian model Stefania Ferrario and former Biggest Loser host Ajay Rochester joining forces to demand that the fashion industry drop its erroneous "plus size" tag. Commonly used to label models that sit outside the industry's ridiculous measurement standards, this term simply perpetuates unrealistic beauty standards across the industry and well beyond. "The pair are using social media to spread their message. Ferrario said on Instagram: 'I am a model FULL STOP. Unfortunately in the modelling industry if you're above a US size 4 you are considered plus size, and so I'm often labelled a 'plus size' model. I do NOT find this empowering.'"
On a positive note, there is the success story of Andreja Pejic, an Australian model who has been walking the runways of major menswear and womenswear designers since the age of 17. The model — born as a male, with the name Andrej Pejic — has identified as a woman since quite a young age. Undergoing gender reassignment surgery in 2014 and changing her name to Andreja, Pejic's is now listed as a female model with all of her agencies around the world. Her difference has been embraced by a number of key players within the industry, but unfortunately she is still in the minority. And even for her, it has been and still continues to be a daily struggle to gain proper acceptance. "There are a lot of roadblocks, particularly when working with cosmetic brands or perfumes or those sort of commercial, corporate things," Pejic told Fairfax Media. "It's been more difficult to break into that world than 'fashion' because it hasn't been done before. They don't have any market research, and people in that world aren't risk-takers. You have to prove to them over and over that you are liked by people, you have a skill, and you can sell a product."
Model agencies have just as much, if not more, to answer for as the designers and magazines when it comes to the industry's lack of diversity. Nika Mavrody from The Fashion Spot conducted an agency-by-agency survey, counting the number of models of colour that were included over two different seasons: Spring 2014 and Fall 2014. The former happened prior to Bethann Hardison's progressive Balance Diversity campaign — which challenges racial diversity in the fashion industry — while the latter took place after. Comparing numbers in 19 major agencies, Mavrody found there was only a one per cent increase of representation for non-white models in show packages over the two seasons. This went from a measly 18.16% in Spring 2014, to a similarly paltry 19.17% in Fall 2014. Some agencies are far better than others, of course. Mavrody's survey also found that small boutique agencies like Fusion Model Management in New York is a standout in this regard, representing an average of 46.5% non-white models per show package. Larger agencies too, like Wilhelmina and Women, are making an effort to reduce this gap, with 33.35% and 31.67% per cent, respectively. Locally, Six Wolves is an agency that promotes a much less pigeonholed approach. Their mission statement proudly proclaims that, "Six Wolves was one of the first agencies in Sydney to offer street casting as an alternative to traditional casting for their clients. We look for people of all ages that are unique and different."
This needs to be an approach more widely embraced, though, and one that we consider the norm rather than the exception. As with anything, all-out change is going to take time. It is for this reason that we wish to celebrate all advancements made in this respect. And with Australian Fashion Week kicking off in Sydney next week, we can't wait to see how our local industry will respond.
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