Monday, December 13, 2010

The Issue of Diversity

The issue of diversity has been a point of contention in the fashion industry since its inception. It has only been in recent times however that the topic of diversity has been open to discussion within fashion circles. In January 2008, former model agent owner Bethann Hardison held an open symposium to examine why models of colour are so poorly represented on fashion runways and in magazines. The event attended by models, designers, journalists, stylists and industry insiders was aimed at raising consciousness of the need for diversity and the collective responsibility of all to make a change in the fashion industry.

In July 2008, Vogue Italia cast the spotlight on the lack of diversity and the poor representation of women of colour on catwalks and in fashion magazines with it's "Black issue". The "Black issue" was conceived by editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani and featured an all black cast of eighteen new, established and past stars, lensed by photographer Steven Meisel. The response to the "Black issue" was unprecedented, with Conde Naste, the publisher, rushing a reprint and redistribution of 40,000 more copies of the magazine to meet consumer demand in the United States and Britain. The phenomenal response to the "Black issue" has implications for the fashion industry to embrace the diverse cultural and social differences within society and to ensure that all standards of beauty and not just the Western ideal, are represented. 

At the recent Spring/Summer 2011 shows in New York however, models of colour were still poorly represented. Of the 128 shows presented, a total of 4170 runway looks were on offer. A statistical analysis conducted by found that of the 4170 opportunities, 81.8% went to white models and 18.2% to non-white models. Of the 18.2 %, non-white Latina models were used 95 times or 2.3% of the time, Asian models were used 296 times or 7.1% of the time, and black models were used  353 times or 8.4% of the time. Models of other colour such as Moroccan or Native Indian, were used 16 times or 0.4% of the time.

The visibility and presence of a model on the runways of New York, London, Milan and Paris has major implications. The shows provide models with the opportunity to be seen by important stylists, editors, designers and casting directors which influences the faces that will go on to feature in editorials, advertising campaigns and on the covers of magazines in the coming season. The buzz and hype surrounding a model during the shows is all-important and palpable, as industry insiders search for the next new face. With so few opportunities being offered to models of colour during show season, a   model's hopes of breaking through the sea of new emerging faces is diminished.

It is unfortunate that the issue of diversity in fashion is still open to debate in 2010. An industry that is built on promoting beauty has a responsibility to reflect the society and world that we live in, and to celebrate our social and cultural differences. Models such as Iman Abdulmajid, Beverly Johnson, Karen Alexander, Kara Young, Liya Kebede, Liu Wen, Joan Smalls and Jourdan Dunn are amongst my favourite models, not because of their skin tone but because of their undeniable beauty and presence. The following models are stellar examples of the beauty of diversity.

Iman Abdulmajid
Photographer - Francesco Scavullo

Naomi Sims
LIFE - October 1969
Photographer - Yale Joel

Beverly Johnson
Glamour - July 1972
Photographer - Unknown

Sheila Johnson
American Vogue - March 1980
Photographer - Patrick Demarchelier

Naomi Campbell
Source - Harpers Bazaar
Photographer - Peter Lindbergh

Louise Vyent
American Vogue - February 1987
Photographer - Richard Avedon

Veronica Webb
Source - Model's Manual
Photographer - Arthur Elgort

Talisa Soto
American Vogue - April 1989
Source -
Patricia Velasquez
Source - Mademoiselle
Photographer - Patrik Andersson

Kiara Kabukuru
Source - Harpers Bazaar
Photographer - Patrick Demarchelier

Karen Alexander
Source - American Vogue
Photographer - Peter Lindbergh

Kara Young
American Vogue - October 1989
Photographer - Patrick Demarchelier

Liya Kebede
Vogue Italia - October 2002
Photographer - Steven Meisel

Chanel Iman, Sessilee Lopez, Jourdan Dunn and Arlenis Sosa
ID Magazine - September 2009
Photographer - Emma Summerton

Liu Wen
Source - China Vogue
Photographer - Unknown

Melodie Monrose and Anais Mali
Interview - December 2010
Photographer - Solve Sundso

Joan Smalls
Photographer - James Mahon

Fei Fei Sun
China Vogue - June 2010
Photographer - Gem Mitchell

Hind Sahli
Photographer - Seb Janiak

Ming Xi
Photo courtesy of Elite Models

Lais Ribeiro
Photographer - Rony Shram
Source - Fashion gone rogue

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