The Authenticity Of Diversity

James Scully once said ‘Gucci gets two thumbs down for the lack of diversity [in their casting]’ back in 2016, with the notion that the fashion industry was not as glamour and creative as it used to be, and as it seems from the outside. He expressed his distain for the industry for its ‘sadistic’ and cruel approach to those involved – more than anyone could ever imagine. He said this in front of a large audience, with Gucci chief executive Marco Bizzarri sitting front row – the ulterior move was to get the clogs in everyone’s heads moving. As one of the industry’s top casting directors, Scully repeatedly ridiculed the industry for the lack of diversity and has emphasised the disillusionment and lack of magic that has watered down the behind the scenes of the industry since his humble beginnings.

Stills from Gucci’s Instagram for their upcoming Pre-Fall 2017 Campaign

As an issue that doesn’t seem to be progressing in the right direction as fast as it should, it was recorded that during F/W 2016, an alarming 75.25% of casted models were of light-skinned and/or Caucasian appearance. This left a very small percentage for models of colour to get booked, making the competition disorderly and ultimately pinning many individuals (with just as much potential) against each other, instead of elevating the diversity. It was even more stringent back during 2013 when 90% of casted models were white. The way that the industry has become so desensitised to the treatment of models of colour (women especially) and how they’re disregarded as tools and rags for designers sends a nerve-wrecking chill down the spine that really needs to be addressed for the continual of the industry’s growth.

So when Gucci released several ‘audition tapes’ all over their social media in the past week for their Pre-Fall 2017 Campaign, people picked up that there were only models of colour involved thus far. Since the ethos of Gucci is one of the most visible luxury houses that lacks greatly  in racial diversity with a certain image, it was both a surprising and sceptical move to make. It leads to question the genuine thought and authenticity of diversity for models for the progress of the industry versus for the self-benefit of a business.

Chromat S/S 2016

Unfortunately since fashion has socially conditioned society to what ideal beauty values should be, through ill advertising with graphics, motion and visuals of the Caucasian body, one can respectively admit that Gucci set a good tone that will possibly be useful for rest of the industry with the implement of new technology and social media. Of course, in regards to the incredible growth of business that Alessandro Michele is setting for Gucci since taking his creative director position in 2015, it wouldn’t be a surprise if diverse casting began to be occur with a shift to be rightfully apart of the universal beauty standards.

The most terrifying thing to cogitate about is that the fashion industry tends to fetishise diversity – anything that is different, ‘oriental‘ and seen outside the box for the industry, becomes aberrant enough that should be celebrated. This inclusive tactic is used season after season to enforce the standards of white models as the normalisation within fashion’s rule, with diversity being the exception for something different. It also puts designers on a pedestal to avoid any criticism of racial casting.Ashish S/S 2016

The key is acceptance to normalisation, not just tolerance for models and diversity within the creative field – unfortunately time and time again, this is not a new issue and has been something that’s been wielded and debated for years under the surface of the new digital age. Now with the change in the thinking of the new millennia, the values and ethics of new voices and faces in the fashion industry, perhaps there might be a chance for change. It’s true to acknowledge that the industry isn’t making as much progress as it should, but there should be a round of minimal applaud to recognise designers like Balmain, Ashish and Chromat who have no qualm or restrictions on casting – and cast for a model’s ability to be present, not the colour of their skin. However again, this celebration becomes an issue of normalisation, hence why more designers need to start casting diversity without expecting an ovation at the end of their shows.

It’s not enough simply to slap on a few models of colour into a magazine/ads and cast a handful for shows and call it a season, it has to become the new normal where rate-racial diversity take shape. Every season prior to New York Fashion Week, members of the CFDA and the Diversity Coalition, led by former model Bethann Hardison (as well as notable designers like Dane von Furstenberg and Steven Kolb), send out a reminder of a guideline that was produced ‘four or five’ years ago for the protection and fair treatment for all models. This guideline includes bullet points such as acknowledging and attending to models’ well-being, making sure to feed them, acknowledge inclusiveness for plus-size and LGBTQA+ and especially to disregard the exclusive casting of models of colour.

NYFW Guideline for Casting Agents and Designers to Consider

‘A great model is a great model, no matter who she is; she can take on any role. I don’t understand why only white girls could be that sort of gin‐soaked boozy girl in Louis Vuitton…. A character can be multicultural. We live in a multicultural world. At this point, it’s almost irresponsible not to represent that on the runway,’ Scully had said back in 2013 as the casting director for many designers like Tom Ford and Jason Wu.

If fashion is going to thrive, and survive in the changes of the socio-economical and political age, it has to adopt and adapt.