2017 is the Most Diverse Year
Asking a fashion insider about the state of diversity in the modelling world and prepare to hear a litany of ways that things are looking up. As the end of the 2017 draws near, after all, a black model (Janaye Furman) opened the Louis Vuttion show for the first time. That model Halima Aden broke through on the runway and on magazine covers. The curvy goddess Ashley Graham, who landed the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue in 2016, climbed onto Forbes’s list of the world’s highest paid model.
It was last year that the magazine Vouge got its first black editor in Edward Enninful and a diversity of a cover star in Adwoa Aboah. A major luxury fashion house known as Versace put their middle-aged models front and centre of the runway. Also, a trans model starred on the cover od another edition of Vogue Paris in March 2017.
These women and their achievements are far from insignificant, but they were both outlined in the industry and exemplars of the same old stories fashion likes to tell about itself. The fact is that fashion remains dominant by extremely thin, young, white models, to a greater degree than is often comfortable to recognise.
Of all the women on the Forbs list of the worlds highest paid models, graham is the only one who represents a different vision of beautiful rather than ‘straight-sized’ names like Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Rosie Huntington.
When Sampaio appeared on the cover of Vogue Paris, it was with the other rising cover line ‘la beauté transgenre’ While more models of colour are breaking through on the runways, there remain plenty of anecdotes about brands that want all- or overwhelmingly white castings. New York Fashion Week in September became the most diverse NYFW ever, just by two models of colour walking in every show in the city. Meanwhile, Fashionistas reported that diversity on the covers of 10 leading US fashion publications declined in 2017.
Diversity isn’t a box you can tick that simply. It’s a matter of race, yes, but also of size, shape, age, gender and different abilities, among other identifiers. There are so many aspects to the notion that sometimes the word ‘diversity’ itself, like ‘sustainability’, can come to seem a husk, an empty buzzword. But the intimidating number of ways that the industry can fail on diversity should in no way detract from the importance of working to get it right.
The bottom line is that diverse representation creates more space for all women to see themselves reflected in fashion, and that can only be a good thing.
There have been some heartening developments, but the main thing changing is the audience’s attitude. Models can take to social media to report shoddy behaviour. Stars can speak out and publicise injustice. And our collective impatience with the people in charge getting it wrong means that everyone is on notice any art director who contemplates altering a cover star’s appearance to the point of fiction will think twice, remembering how hard those cover stars - and their fans - can come down on publications considering Grazia’s Lupita Nyong’o debacle.