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En Vogue: has diversity in fashion come far enough?

ByOctavia Dunlop

Sep 25, 2018

When the first leaf of autumn falls, fashion month rears its head and there is a discernible shift from late summer calm to the runways of early autumn mania.

Now a cultural zeitgeist, September fashion month comes alive every year with a certain magic. However, a new kind of magic appeared on the runways, epitomised by the sight of an ethereal Halima Aden sashaying down the SS19 Max Mara show. Hijab in pride of place, she was irrefutable proof that fashion, albeit fashionably late to the party, is finally starting to diversify.

Whilst SS19 is the most inclusive season yet, the question still stands whether fashion still is unable to wholly represent reality and whether diversity in fashion has come far enough.

New York Fashion Week was the most diverse in its history with every show casting at least two models of colour. Ralph Lauren, a house emblematic of American tradition, embraced diversity through the jubilant 50th anniversary celebrations that saw everybody from Edward Enninful to Anna Wintour in the front row.

The show welcomed a tale of American style then, told through the window of American society now. Ralph Lauren himself stated that “I don’t design clothes, I design dreams,” and with the growing inclusivity of the brand, the paradoxical Ralph Lauren American Dream lifestyle could be a reality for all of America.

New York also played host to the spearhead of fashion’s New Wave, solidified by the incomparable Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty collection. The collection saw a range of models gracing the runway in what was a surrealist garden-party-meets Ex-Machina “immersive experience”.

Rihanna shattered the glass ceiling with Fenty Beauty, the phenomenon that revitalised make-up and has left women strangely emotional, because “some are finding their shade of foundation for the first time”. And with Savage x Fenty celebrating sizes 0-22, Rihanna continues to create “for women of all shades and sizes”.  Yet London has a lot of progress still to come, for only 15 per cent of models this season were of colour whilst 40 per cent of London are people of colour. And we don’t have an Ashley Graham, of course.

Yet, increasingly diverse fashion isn’t solely relegated to ethnicity, with wide ranges of age and physicality continuing to find a larger footing on the world runway. Fashion’s Finest saw wheelchair user Samanta Bullock close its show. Winnie Harlow, who has vitiligo, opened for House of Holland, and Steven Tai cast visibly disfigured models to “give the context of the collection a lot more depth.”

However, Dior was recently criticised for using Cara Delevingne, a 26-year-old dewy-skinned supermodel, as the face of their anti-ageing cream – surely counterintuitive for their principal demographic, older women able to purchase luxury brand products.

However, the issue of ageism in fashion is being tackled by fresh designers rewriting the narrative on inclusivity to include models of all ages, such as the brilliant 72-year-old model Jan de Villeneuve. “Timeless style” is finally becoming literal.

What has been happening on the runways of London Fashion Week (LFW) is not indicative of the wider UK population. New York is smashing it and what these models represent is subversively what we should see in an industry that survives on a frenetically paced social landscape. 

We’ve seen athleisure, we’ve seen Yeezys, and now revolutionary levels of diversity within LFW this year and, hopefully, the diversity conversation will explode in FW19.

Certainly LFW this year was the most inclusive that has ever been experienced. However, there remains an air of uncertainty regarding the continuation of having models of all sizes, ages, and races, especially in LFW.

Edward Enninful, the first black, male editor of British Vogue, is starting to inflect real, inviolable change in British fashion which hopefully means that in the future perhaps Rihanna won’t be the only woman of colour to have featured on the September cover of British Vogue.

As Yara Shahidi’s Instagram bio says, “we don’t integrate, we recreate”. It is important that we don’t just slot people into the exisiting framework but seek to reinvent a framework with inclusivity at its centre. We need to recreate diversity within fashion so that more people can find themselves within the clothing they wear and feel like the person they are is right and true.

Image: Hannah Riordan

By Octavia Dunlop

Octavia Dunlop studies French and English Literature. Octavia first wrote for The Student in freshers’ with a piece entitled En Vogue: Has diversity in fashion gone far enough. Having written about high fashion continuously throughout her first semester,  branching out  to interview WCS @ Yale director Patricia Russo for the news section, she then became the first Senior Writer for lifestyle, before becoming Features Editor in her first-year.

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