One Step at a Time for Diversity

It finally feels like the industry is slowly starting to progress with the understanding of diversity, and rightfully so, after having been slammed for falling short of diverse casting, as an, in the most blatant way to put it, act of racism. Therefore, this week alone can perhaps be marked as a pivotal moment for fashion; a small step for the industry.

Back in 2016, Italian luxury house Gucci, along with several other houses, was ridiculed for the whitewashing in their castings and campaigns. Then earlier in January in a turn of events, the house released ‘audition tape’ posts throughout their social media accounts as part of their upcoming Pre-Fall 2017 Campaign featuring only models of colour. This garnered much attention, both supporting and questioning the ulterior motives of the house to be taking such an interesting move. The question at hand was, is this move for progress or posture? While it was acknowledged that designer Alessandro Michele was a contender to set the slate for diversity in the fashion industry, there was, and continues to be the argument of authenticity for diverse casting and the inexcusable means of racism that affects those in fashion.

Soul Scene, Gucci Pre-Fall 2017 Campaign

Additionally, outrage was sparked with the March issue of Vogue US, where the theme of  ‘celebrating female diversity’ was clearly lacking with the choices of casting for the issue. It didn’t sit well with the public, who voiced their disappointment with one of the models, Karlie Kloss, who appropriated Geisha tradition for the publication’s themed editorial, as well as pushing casted models of colour together in various shoots instead of giving them separate spreads. The (online) debate followed the notion of the industry’s lack of coloured casting, and especially for a Japanese themed shoot where one would have hoped that the model was ethnically Japanese to properly portray the creative direction, so it was a big blow.

It’s not surprising, but is always disappointing to remember that the industry has always been notorious for their lack of brains and consideration on the ever-plaguing issue of diversity and racism. It was recorded last season that 27.9% of models casted were of colour, which was only a 2.5% increase from previous years. While some may say it is an improvement (which it is, of course) in casting, it’s still considered a slow burn for the industry. When a model of colour is casted for either a campaign or a show, it’s a feat to acknowledge for the girl who’s worked hard, but it digs at the elephant in the room – was this casting done to better the career prospects of the model/s, for the brand’s growth or simply for the designers to steer clear of being slammed for being too narrow minded with their ‘presence’?

Why has it come to the point that token casting to evade criticism is normal, and how authentic is the casting itself?

The question of accountability here is to consider whether the casting of models of colour would be a continuous ride and not just a seasonal trend that designers can hop on with – it has to become the right, and normal direction in diversification for the industry. Famed casting director James Scully stated in the past that tokenism is heavily in play on the runway, and is the reason why many designers opt to cast one or two models of colour to ward off criticism that could hinder their brand. Simply that.  As Vetements and ripped jeans come and go as trends of the season, so too are models (of colours) in the spotlight, treated as objectified products of trends.

“They do it not to get in trouble, they don’t do because they believe black women should be on the runway.”

So that brings forth the discussion of Gucci’s Pre-Fall 2017 Campaign with an ensemble of only models of colour. The likes of Nicole Ateino, Elibeidy, Bakay Diaby, and Keiron Berton Caynes are seen dancing and showing off what it means to have soul (which was something they had to answer back during their audition tapes), and the campaign is entitled endearingly, Soul Scene. 

Soul Scene, Gucci Pre-Fall 2017 Campaign

It’s fantastic news for the house, the models casted and the industry, since Gucci is known to have been dominantly lacklustre in castings with previous campaigns. Inspired by dandyism and the black youth culture of England’s underground Northern Soul movement back in the 60’s, it’s only right that this campaign features the quintessential and in-trend Gucci flamboyance of colours, sequins, luxe – and of course, all-black models who know exactly what it means to portray and present – without doing wrong. In essence, Soul Scene is an exploration of the exuberant and self-expression of men and women wanting to challenge the conventions of society through art and dance.

Not only is Gucci working towards a better future for the industry, but also competitor Italian luxury house, Dolce & Gabbana, are also headed in the right direction. They seem to be redeeming themselves from their controversial history with cultural appropriation and nonsensical visibility for consumers, which is always a good start. Hopefully it lasts.

Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda in Tokyo 2017

Holding their annual Alta Moda and Alta Sartoria show in Tokyo instead of Milan, designer duo Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana graciously adhered to casting all-Japanese models to reflect their inspiration of Japanese culture for a special collection, dedicated to the beauty and their love of the country. Extravagantly presented with lavish lace, sequins, furs and the ever-so decadent accessories, the duo drew their collection from the colours and shapes of cherry blossoms – pastel and vivid colours of pinks and accompanying golds, creams and even the occasional black. With a dreamy-like quality that was manifested within their visions, the duo kept within the boundaries of appreciating culture with respect, which was applauded at the end of the show.

As well as the show, for their editorial campaign #DGLovesJapan, the house featured bright and bubbly Japanese models adorning their collection, taking in the vibrant colours and bedazzle to accompany the illuminating background of the bustling city as they ran around in a very fun shoot. A massive step up from the disaster that was Vogue’s supposed-Japanese editorial – so something, perhaps, for the Condé Nast staff to thoughtfully consider about in the future.

“This is Japan and we want to show our respect for this place,” Gabbana had stated after the show, “What’s the point of travelling all the way to Japan and showing the same thing that could be seen in Milan?”

Touché.

Dolce & Gabbana #DGLovesJapan Campaign

‘Slow and steady wins the race’ is the motto to remember, and it can be applied to anything, even the fashion industry. No doubt the industry is still slow, but it is slowly churning out more diversity within campaigns, which reflects baby steps to succession. The history of such major houses’ preference for Caucasian models in lieu of their decision to be more uplifting this year means that hopefully for the houses, their aesthetics and philosophies can undergo very important changes for the industry.

One can only pray that the industry’s biggest, and most important names will start to latch on and become more open-minded about the inclusiveness, needs, wants and rights of those working in fashion and for consumers who want to see more representation.