Heels in the Sand

March 26th, 2015

Heels in the Sand

While fashion has been dragging its feet when it comes to diversity, this season heralded an optimistic turn – but for how long?
Models.com reviews the current state of diversity with several industry insiders to understand how the scales have been tipped.



Cover photos: Fall/Winter 2015 shows by Casey Vange for Models.com
Portraits courtesy of interviewees

Runway photos
YUAN BO – Valentino Runway Photo by Catwalking/Getty Images
BHUMIKA – Fendi runway photo by Catwalking / Getty Images
AMILNA – Giambattista Valli Runway Photo by Catwalking/Getty Images
DYLAN -Alexander Wang Runway Photo by Catwalking/Getty Images
KARLY – Celine Runway Photo by Catwalking/Getty Images
LINEISY – Prada Runway Photo by Catwalking/Getty Images
MAE – Louis Vuitton Runway Photo by Catwalking/Getty Images
AAMITO – Balenciaga Runway Photo by Catwalking/Getty Images

Diversity.

In the present day, it’s something that seems like it should be standard. Not forced, pushed, or reminded of.

Yet, when it comes to fashion’s runways, the ever-changing, liberal industry seems stuck on this one sore subject – the continual inclusion of models of color. The importance of racial diversity amid models has been discussed for many years but none more fervently than in 2013 with the efforts of Bethann Hardison and the Balance Diversity Coalition. The activist along with supermodels, Naomi Campbell & Iman, directly called out fashion designers and their dominant preference of all-white model castings. Since then, there has been a push for dialogue between the different sectors in the industry to combat and eliminate this problem. Four or so fashion weeks later, this season has been heralded as the season many designers finally incorporated a range of looks into their castings. But how right has it been? Industry insiders gave us their take on the movement for balance and how things have changed – for better or worse.

As far as quantifying change, it seems like numbers aren’t telling the whole story. Hardison asserts when sites “come up with ratios and percentages to indicate that there’s been very little improvement, I don’t agree. I don’t like looking at them now.” She optimistically turns to the visual representation of girls of color on the runway and in editorial, saying she “only likes seeing the improvement of the girls. If you don’t have great models to compete with their white counterparts you’re not going to get a job. Now we have a fighting chance.” Hardison would instead like to focus on the encouragement of agencies scouting girls of color in mass. “These last few seasons it has been much better because we now have more girls of color, whether they’re Black, Middle Eastern, or Asian” inferring that there’s now a bigger pool from which to draw.

“These last few seasons it has been much better because we now have more girls of color, whether they’re Black, Middle Eastern, or Asian”
Bethann Hardison

Similarly, Angus Munro and Noah Shelley, the casting directing team behind AM Casting that was responsible for the line-up at Kenzo, Matthew Williamson, Rick Owens, and that Kanye West x Adidas show, both echoed the sentiments of Bethann. Talking about how things were done in the past, Munro says, “I don’t think scouts were particularly out there looking for black or Asian girls. It’s a supply and demand industry just like any other one.” Shelley breaks it down further, “If there aren’t enough scouts going to African and Asian countries then the model agencies don’t have as much diversity in their ranks. And then those models don’t get shown to me and I can’t show them to my client. When we do a casting and 500 models come in in 3 days, and 15 of them are black girls what will be the percentage that 1-5 of them will make it in that show? It all of a sudden becomes a numbers game.” And the numbers aren’t in the favor of many models of color that are overlooked because of filled quotas.

“I don’t think scouts were particularly out there looking for black or Asian girls. It’s a supply and demand industry just like any other one.”
Angus Munro

Across the board the designers that got it right when it came to diversity were pointed out. Casting director, James Scully, who has worked with brands like Tom Ford, Stella McCartney, & Derek Lam, expressed frankly, “Balmain supports (diversity) so much because of him (Olivier Rousteing). It’s the one place where you see more girls of color than anywhere else and I think that some people take that lead and follow. Balenciaga was great as well with what Alexander Wang did.”

On the runway F/W 2015: Yuan Bo @ Valentino, Bhumika @ Fendi, Amilna @ Giambattista Valli, Dylan @ Alexander Wang, Karly @ Celine, Lineisy @ Prada, Mae @ Louis Vuitton, Aamito @ Balenciaga

Certainly, brands like Celine and Prada that were notorious for going seasons without including a single Black or Asian girl, seemed to embrace both this season. Scully confirms this notion disclosing, “The last two most interesting black girls that have really been launched started at Prada. Aya Jones and Lineisy Montero. In a way, the company that used to lead the way in the worst sort of offense is now leading the way in breaking the new girls of color.” Indeed, many models of color like Aamito Lagum, Yuan Bo Chao, Bhumika Arora, Dylan Xue, Mica Arganaraz, Jing Wen, & Amilna Estevao had terrific seasons walking a heavy number of shows that put them on the radar of many.

Kyle Hagler, president of the NY division of Next Management, agrees that this past season had a lot of new faces of color on the runways but cautions that “the job is a multi-layered job and it’s not just about runways, it’s about advertising and editorial too; so it’s about having a presence in totality and consistently.” As it stands, runway is normally the introduction of many models into the fashion world with advertising and editorials taking them to the next step. Without all three components, success stands out of reach for many hopeful contenders and the latter two are where many models of color fall short.

“The job is a multi-layered job and it’s not just about runways, it’s about advertising and editorial too, so it’s about having a presence in totality and consistently.”
– Kyle Hagler / Next New York

So which designers got it totally wrong this season? Despite some finally stepping up to the plate, other designers maintained a largely white casting aesthetic. Names like Gucci, Saint Laurent, Carven, and many others came up constantly this season for their regretful omission of more models of color. Scully feels like the issue is “designers are really led by their stylists and casting directors. A lot of these castings directors are French or English and I just think culturally they don’t think about it. Unless they’re called out in force, they wouldn’t if they didn’t have to.”

Scully focuses on monotony being inconceivable in a globalized business like fashion stating, “When you’re a global brand like Gucci and you just totally erase half of the customers out of the cast, I think they think it doesn’t matter. But it does matter and I have plenty of friends that say then ‘I can’t buy it.’” Scully goes on to admonish Saint Laurent and its creative director, Hedi Slimane, saying, “there are so many Black and Asian rock and roll stars so I don’t see why Black or Asian people don’t fit into Hedi Slimane’s world. I don’t understand it. And again these are 2 big global brands that have a lot of people to talk to and even with the amount of Asian shoppers they completely omit them from campaigns. They’re basically saying they don’t exist and in 2015 it’s just ridiculous now. It’s a global world and everyone in the world shops and wants to be part of something.”

“It’s a global world and everyone in the world shops and wants to be part of something.”
James Scully

Bethann echoes James’s sentiment when describing this season as inflexible designers having their “heels in the sand” saying, “I look at Lanvin and I look at a designer who I know used to work for Geoffrey Beane… he’s always been conscious of color and he’s using so few girls of color in such a way that it is really disturbing now. This time, Lanvin had 1 black and Asian girl and this is one guy I know has a clue. It shouldn’t be about white and it shouldn’t be about black. It should be about finding the girls that look beautiful.”

“We all can do better. We all have to make sure that every woman in the world can see themselves in images in an aspirational way.”
– Kyle Hagler / Next New York

So how do we continue? It seems obvious that to make change for the better the industry has to finally come to grips with its problem of repetition. It seems that many brands get caught up in the archaic ideas of yesteryear without thinking, or caring, about their global outreach. Hagler reaffirms that “we all can do better. We all have to make sure that every woman in the world can see themselves in images in an aspirational way… let’s face it, what our business generates people pay attention to. I think we also have to be conscious of the fact that people do look to us to drive their emotional state sometimes and if you’re not represented sometimes people feel like they don’t matter and it should never come across like that.” The problem may be more rooted in the stubborn sentiment of many and lack of taking responsibility for the issues of the business. Shelley states that, “it’s tough because people want to just say ‘Oh it shouldn’t matter. Everything is fine’ but until it’s actually an even playing field somebody has to put the energy into changing it a little bit.”

Here’s to hoping that a little turns into a lot.

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