Diversity in the Modelling Industry: Novelty or Norm?

Diversity in the modelling industry: is it becoming the norm...or is it still very much a novelty? Whereas the Oscars controversy highlighted the underrepresentation of African American actors (but interestingly not other ‘minorities’ such as Asian or Hispanic), the current discussion involves the underrepresentation of most ethnicities from the fashion radar. It’s also sadly nothing new and the very fact we are still discussing it conveys how much an issue it still is. 

Up until the past decade or so, ethnic minorities within the model industry were approached with a kind of tokenism and treated with as an exotic novelty; notable examples being Iman and Grace Jones in the 1970s and 80s and Alek Wek in the late 90s.

A notable change came in the mid-noughties in the form of market driven representation. Asian models (primarily from the Far-East) started appearing in their numbers on the catwalks. Coinciding with the birth of Vogue China in 2005 , this made sense from a commercial perspective, considering the overwhelming consumer spending power that was the Chinese luxury market. Fast forward to 2016, the slightly weakening economy in China has fortunately not equated to less of a Far-East representation in model casting. The formula for diversity within the modelling industry is however not clear cut. Despite India being a major superpower and one of the largest populations on the planet poorly under represented as one of the world’s burgeoning superpowers. 

It’s not only to do with casting models with multi-ethnic heritage, it's also about celebrating it. Despite the mixed heritage of models such as Gigi Hadid (Dutch and Palestinian) her image is still very much White Caucasian. Whereas Lineisy Montero, with her Puerto Rican heritage, stood out from the crowd on the Prada catwalk for sporting a more natural hairstyle, in contrast to the style used for the rest of the line-up. And whether you love or hate Olivier Rousteing and his takeover of the French house Balmain, his introduction of a more multicultural world of strong global female power certainly promotes a more representational image. 

Lineisy Montero, Prada SS'16

Lineisy Montero, Prada SS'16

If the objective of models to represent the consumer and their aspirations, we still have a long way to go. According to The Fashion Spot, in the Spring 2016 catwalk shows, 77.6% of models were white, which marks the latest in a gradual improvement from 80% in Autumn 2015 and 83% in the previous season.

There are many aspects of the fashion industry which have been criticised as archaic. Just as it was slow to adopt digital, it may be even slower to accurately represent global consumers. There is hope though, with an increasingly diverse new crop of models each season, as well as more experimental approach to casting. 

Claire Barrow Presentation SS'16

Claire Barrow Presentation SS'16

As seen in our article on last season’s presentations in London, emerging designers such as Claire Barrow and Ashley Williams some have gone one step further in casting not only women of differing shapes, ages and sizes, but also male and transgender models. Initially, seen as a statement, it could be a vision as what’s to come.

Transgender model, Andreja Pejic

Transgender model, Andreja Pejic

So what’s next? Starting with Burberry’s choice to combine the the shows for mens’ and womens’ collections; men modelling women’s clothing and vice versa; the rise of transgender models such as Andreja Pejic, there seems to be a shift in the high fashion system and could be indicative of a soon to be wider change within the industry, therefore making a former novelty the norm.