New York Fashion Week had a lot to offer this time, as a huge number of designers came up with innovative concepts and put up collections with a large variety of colours, prints, silhouettes and styles. What it did lack was diversity in terms of the models used. With a majority of models being white, very few being black, and fewer still being Asian or Latinas, the fashion industry was widely criticised for being racist. This issue of lack of diversity on the ramp, far from being a recent issue, has been discussed and debated upon for the past 15 years. African-American supermodels like Naomi Campbell, Iman and Bethann Hardison have often spoken on the issue. All three women are a part of the Diversity Coalition, which fights for more diverse representation on the ramp. The coalition released an email to the fashion world in this regard, under a campaign called “Balance Diversity”. The email called out all designers and fashion houses that consistently used only white models, and even took the bold step of naming them. “No matter the intention, the result is racism.”, the email writes. “Whether it is the decision of the designer, stylist or casting director, that decision to use basically all white models, reveals a trait that is unbecoming to modern society.”
In the past, many designers have resisted from using models of colour in their show, by claiming that it is not racism, but an aesthetic choice. While artistic freedom is every designer’s right, the question that arises here is how does a model’s skin colour infringe upon this right. This trend is dangerous as it sends the outrageously incorrect message that white and only white equals beauty.
However, there is a bright side to the situation too. The CFDA was quite receptive to the email and promises to support the cause. Naomi Campbell claims that the Diversity Coalition has made a positive impact already. “Giorgio Armani used four models of colour on his show. Jil Sander did; I am naming names because this is a very big improvement.” she said. However she hopes this is not just a temporary trend that will quieten the voices of the Diversity Coalition and fool the industry to believe that the situation no longer requires attention. Here’s to hoping that fashion will become diverse and accepting in this regard as well.