With encouragement from Naomi Campbell’s initiative Balance Diversity, to work in an inclusive way, UK designers this season delivered their new looks to applause and a now semi-regular ticking off from various publications, for lack of racial diversity within their shows. This was discussed at a recent London College of Fashion’s Better Lives devoted to Racism, with a variety of panelists and members in the audience contributing their experiences. Casting agent Jody Furlong had heard all the excuses, “we’ve already got a black girl,” is the most common excuse he says, for not moving beyond tokenism “that’s not our aesthetic,” is a close runner up. The latter being a favourite of designers like Muccia Prada perhaps, whose shows from 1994 to 2008 used exclusively Caucasian models.
Meanwhile over in Hollywood, Lupita Nyong’o highlighted the psychological impact upon young women who see only Eurocentric beauty ideals in their media. Her Oscar acceptance speech outlined the impact on young women and men when there is lack of diversity in our media.
“I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty, black beauty, dark beauty, I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you: “Dear Lupita,” it reads, “I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”
Rocket science it ain’t. As the slogan for Miss Representation (Jennifer Seibel Newsom’s documentary say’s ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ Perhaps creatives who aren’t racially aware need more encouragement to think about the bigger picture. Nyong’o sites Alek Wek as an important mentor – being able to see the fashion model’s dark skin celebrated in advertising campaigns made a world of difference to the self-esteem of the star of Twelve Years a Slave. Fashion is powerful and encouragement is something we make a habit of at All Walks.
We can all get involved in change. All Walks Beyond the Catwalk is coming to the end of a lecture tour aimed at turning degree students into ‘conscious practitioners.’ Our Diversity NOW! lectures promote racial, age, size and body-difference, awareness – why? Because the global market is diverse. Because a default Eurocentric approach is boring and does not reflect the deliciousness of human appearance in all its forms. But particularly because the fashion industry has a powerful part to play on the way people feel about themselves and inclusivity is good for self-esteem.
If this current crop of creatives find it unnecessary to work inclusively, then perhaps the next generation will GET IT. Last year’s creatives didn’t let us down in 2013. That’s why we will ask students up and down the UK and internationally to engage with Diversity NOW! and think in a more enlightened way. What do you want to say about bodies and self esteem? Have you got an opinion on race, age, gender, body difference? To design for, write about, film, draw or promote a broader range of body and beauty ideals enter our competition. Our deadline is April 21st.
And while you are thinking about it, AW creative team Daniel Sims and Sophie Parker, who photographed behind the scenes at London Fashion Week recently has put together a small collection of shots that deliver a more inclusive picture of fashion, to wet your appetite.
Former fashion editor and co-editor of i-D Magazine for 6 years in the early eighties, Caryn Franklin has been a fashion commentator for 33 years. She presented the BBC’s Clothes Show for 12 years and BBC’s Style Challenge for 3 years as well as producing and presenting numerous documentaries for ITV on designers including Vivienne Westwood, Philip Treacy and Matthew Williamson.
Working in education throughout her career as external assessor and lecturer in colleges like Central St Martins, London College of fashion and Royal College of Art, she is also an ardent fashion activist and has co-chaired the award winning Fashion Targets Breast Cancer for 19 years and proposed the London College of Fashion Centre of Sustainability and is its ambassador.
Follow Caryn on Twitter: @Caryn_franklin