Social Change Continues to be Reflected in Fashion

Advocating for social change undoubtedly became the most popular theme of 2015, and fashion is far from letting this important movement go. Designers and models alike have taken initiative to draw attention to the lack of diversity in the industry—an obvious under-representation of all non-dominant communities.

There have been standout moments in fashion when hope for a balanced and inclusive racial demographic is high. Dominican Republic native Lineisy Montero was recognized as the model with the most show appearances for the spring 2016 season, walking for 68 fashion houses. Zac Posen publicly supported the Black Models Matter movement during New York Fashion Week fall 2016, where he debuted a collection inspired by Ugandan Princess Elizabeth of Toro, with 25 of his 33 models being women of color. Despite these boundary-breaking moves, the fight for racial equality is far from over, and large problems still exist. In its Fashion Week diversity report, the Fashion Spot found that in the spring 2016 season, a disappointingly large 77.6% of models were white.

Gallatin sophomore Victor Leonard shared his thoughts on the low number of models of color booking fashion gigs.

“Fashion is based upon a standard of thin, feminine whiteness,” Leonard said. “The industry has historically discriminated against models of color for a variety of topical and prejudicial reasons: hair texture, skin tone, size, etc.”

Even more unsettling is some designers’ unintended cultural appropriation which occurs under the mask of promoting diversity. Valentino’s Spring 2016 collection debuted garments which creative directors Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri designed in support of African refugees in Italy. Yet in their African-themed show of about 89 looks, less than 10 models of color were cast. The rest of the models, despite being white, strutted in tribal-patterned dresses and bone necklaces, along with hair styled in cornrows and dreadlocks. This creates a clear problem.

Gender diversity has become an important issue as well. Certainly the most successful transgender model, Andreja Pejic became the face of cosmetic brand Make Up For Ever and participated in a nationwide Sephora beauty campaign, as well as Kenneth Cole’s fall campaign. She is also the first transgender model to be profiled in Vogue. Making fashion headlines along with Pejic, Hari Nef was the first transgender woman signed to IMG Worldwide, joining the same prestigious circle as Kate Moss, Gisele Bündchen, and Gigi Hadid.

Leonard explained that despite the significant difference between the number of white transgender models and that of transgender women of color, representation of any kind is important.

“The addition of transgender models in the industry becomes a way to remove the link between clothing and sex,” Leonard said, “as well as provides the important reflection that women, men, and anyone who doesn’t identify as either, have positions within society and are able to claim their own beauty.”

Simply put, fashion is making progress; however, it is minute when compared to the overarching exclusion of diverse models on every platform. Those in power, as well as the public, must keep working and fighting to achieve greater equality in this industry.

Medardo Perez is a contributing writer. Email him at violetvision@nyunews.com.

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