Will fashion ever truly embrace diversity?

We’re getting closer, but there’s still a long way to go.

In the last year, the ‘diversity’ factor has been rising in fashion: from higher numbers of non-Caucasian models walking the runways, through to an ever-expanding range of ages and sizes stalking the catwalk. One thing is for sure; we’re getting closer than ever to the elusive idea of diversity in fashion.

But a few tired events have left me wondering: will fashion ever truly embrace diversity? 

Let’s start with Miu Miu. Last month, the fashion house created an uproar with a dress featuring a five-pointed yellow star emblazoned with ‘John’, that bore more than a passing resemblance to the six-pointed Star of David that Jewish people were forced to wear during Nazi occupation. 

Sure, we all assume that they didn’t create a garment based on Holocaust-inspired symbolism, but the clear cut issue here is a lack of sensitivity. It might be easy to dismiss this as a simple case of ignorance, considering this symbol rose to fame over 80 years ago. Except for the fact that only three years ago, Zara was publicly shamed for doing exactly the same thing. You’d think fashion would be pretty damn aware that no one should ever put a yellow star badge on anything, ever. If we are to truly embrace diversity, it also extends to demonstrating religious and cultural tolerance too. 

The shameful thing about it is that this isn’t the first time – even this year, even this month – that fashion has been tripped up on cultural or religious ignorance, or worse, appropriation. In May, Chanel, a repeat cultural offender offered a boomerang retailing for $2,000.

Meanwhile, Marc Jacobs last year sent Kendall Jenner et al down the runway in dreadlocks for his SS17 presentation. No matter how large and outraged the uproar, it just doesn’t seem to stop. There’s absolutely no way that Marc Jacobs – nor, none of his team – didn’t know what they were doing when they cast a majority-white runway and adorned them with dreds.

And this is the problem – too often has appropriation created a juicy headline. A headline that fashion will forgive you for later, over and over again, but a headline that still gives you the wide-ranging coverage for your clothes. 

How can fashion expect to achieve a diverse runway, when they’re offending the very people they’re looking to include? I can’t imagine how uncomfortable a black model would have felt backstage at that show. 

Yet, ironically, the solution to all of this would have been so simple: if you love dreadlocks, why not cast a show of black models? I can only think that it was a conscious decision not to.

Speaking of conscious decisions in casting, I’m brought back home to Melbourne Fashion Week – who cast Kristy Wu, Ajak Deng, Thomas Davenport and Stefania Ferrario as its deliciously diverse crew of ambassadors.

The runways, however, always present more of a challenge. Although there were a few body positive and age diverse models featured in the earlier runways, we could always welcome more to drive that message home.

It’s a sentiment that Nicki Minaj, just this week, extended from the runway to the front row guest list. Speaking at the Phillip Plein after-party, following show performances with 21 Savage, Yo Gotti, and Rae Sremmurd, Minaj slammed the profiteering that often results in no greater inclusion:

“Thank you Philipp Plein for including our culture… Designers get really big and really rich off of our culture, and then you don’t see a motherfucker that look anything like us in the front row half the time.”

So it comes down to this: will fashion ever really embrace diversity? Cultural, religious, ethnic, age, and gender diversity? Will it ever truly punish designers who prove themselves serial appropriation offenders?

Or will the industry just continue to generate a few feel-good headlines about it in magazines – while accepting huge advertising dollars from Chanel’s latest collection featuring American Indian headdresses and a $2000 boomerang? 

Unfortunately, my money is on the less admirable of the two.

Follow Bianca’s fashion journey at @_thesecondrow, or listen to her new podcast @thefashionpodcast


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