Changing the Face of Fashion – Diversity on the Runway.

The fashion industry, in all its glamour and sheen, has never been viewed as particularly inclusive. And for an industry that influences the vast majority’s lives, this is not only surprising, but at its worst, could also be somewhat self-destructive. In a time where social media plays such a crucial role in furthering a brand’s reach, the general public have been given a larger voice than ever before. Understandably, fashion, makeup and skincare companies choose models that they feel highlight the best of their brand. However, these unattainable levels of perfection seem to be having an adverse effect on large audiences now.

Increasingly, the models and advertising techniques adopted by big brands are facing criticism, as the public wish to see more ‘normal’ faces and figures in the media. Though there is still a way to go until, for example, female hair removal ads show actual body hair, and until plus-sizes models are seen in everyday campaigns, a start has definitely been made.

For example. with New York and London Fashion Weeks wrapped up and Milan Fashion Week well underway, some alterations in the runway line ups have not gone unnoticed. The most striking model in many shows was Madeline Stuart, a 21 year old model with Down’s Syndrome. Having walked seven shows in New York and a further seven in London, Stuart is making waves in the fashion industry. Madeline’s mother and manager, Rosanne Stuart, stated:

‘I won’t let her walk unless she gets treated like every other model out there. It’s not creating diversity and helping to change the world if we don’t do it like everybody else does.’

In total, Madeline has walked in over sixty shows, and shows no signs of stopping any time soon. Her presence on the runway is starting conversations about what beauty really is, and just how necessary inclusivity is. It seems that the days are gone where people are happy to look at what they are told they should aspire to be in fashion and beauty, but instead want to be shown the beauty in imperfections and examples of more ‘ordinary’ people.

Just last week, Victoria’s Secret, a brand known for its almost impossibly high standards for their model’s physique, had their annual casting. And although viewers can not expect to see changes in the figures of the models gracing the runway this year, the brand has made tiny steps in the direction of diversity. Amongst those cast this year is Winnie Harlow, a model largely known for her striking appearance as a result of her vitiligo. Harlow has had a successful career for some time now, however securing the Victoria’s Secret runway, often referred to as the ‘Model Olympics’, highlights just how accepted she is in the industry. Victoria’s Secret have often been subject to criticism for their lack of inclusion of women of colour, and seem to have been making steps to change this over recent years. They still have a long way to go however, if they are to compete with Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty lingerie show.

Rihanna took diversity to the extreme in her runway show during New York Fashion Week this year, in which an array of women of all shapes and sizes modelled her lingerie line. Models of varying heights and weights were used, including a heavily pregnant Slick Woods. Woods later revealed that she was in fact already in labour at this point, making the Savage x Fenty show remarkably different and more inclusive than any that came before it. Rihanna, in both her beauty and fashion lines, has been widely praised for her inclusivity and celebration of diversity. The public are becoming increasingly interested in seeing this from brands, as ultimately the public are the customers and do not wish to feel excluded from the brands’ ‘ideal’ demographics.

Though not all of us can be the next Alexander McQueen or Anna Wintour, representing fashion and beauty should not come with criteria. If, as the iconic Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wear’s Prada says, what happens on the runway ‘filters down through the department stores’ for the ordinary folk, then surely it should be the ordinary folk that we see representing it. It can only be a positive thing as brands are forced to become more diverse. With the direction that social media is going in, these changes can surely only continue, so that a runway show like Rihanna’s becomes not a novelty, but a regularity.

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