Were the AW18 shows the most inclusive ever? Yes and no. Non-white models were still a minority on the catwalks. But, according to the Instagram site @moremodelsofcolor, which keeps a tally of non-white models walking at the shows, this season was better than many. The account’s authors, who prefer to remain anonymous, told the FT: “New York had a really great season, with a diversity percentage of 37,32 per cent. In London there were diversity levels of 34.56 per cent. In Milan, non-white models accounted for 34 per cent, and Paris, despite having some of the most diverse shows of the season, only had a total of 26,5 per cent models of colour [on the catwalk].”
Fashion is slowly being recast, and often it’s young non-white models who are leading the charge for change. Adwoa Aboah, positive fashion ambassador for the British Fashion Council, highlighted the challenge at London Fashion Week last month. “Our objective is to become the most diverse fashion week — we are currently second behind New York.”
Many brands embraced the challenge: Indian-born Ashish Gupta’s eponymous brand had a catwalk of 83 per cent non-white faces. Meanwhile, Fashion East, the UK non-profit initiative established in 2000 to nurture young designers, was one of the few places in which south-Asian models walked. (As @moremodelsofcolor points out, models from the Middle East and south Asia are among the most under-represented in the industry.)
Not everyone has light skin, straight hair and blue eyes — and there is beauty in thatAnok Yai
Milan also showed signs of progress. Piergiorgio Del Moro cast a diverse catwalk of non-white faces at Max Mara, and the biochemistry student Anok Yai became the second black model to open a Prada show in more than two decades. The biggest disappointment of the AW18 womenswear season? Haider Ackermann, in Paris, where only three models of colour walked in a cast of 31 (9,7 per cent).
The catwalk may be changing, but will this diversity be reflected elsewhere, in magazine shoots and advertising? “Unfortunately, diversity is treated like a trend in this industry, so the sustainability of diversity levels is unpredictable,” says @moremodelsofcolor. “However, the more models of colour are represented on the runway, the more attention they are likely to receive for jobs in editorials and print ads. Magazines in general are usually less diverse, an assumption that is based on the ignorant notion that non-white models do not sell [clothes] as well as white models. Moreover, the type of shoots models of colour are typically used for are very niche, exotic or culturally driven narratives. Diversity needs to be a naturalised part of the industry, and the creative direction of shoots.” Here are some of the faces we hope to see a lot more of.
Scouted at the bus stop last September, the 22-year-old Adan made headlines in her native Denmark when she became the first hijab-wearing model to be signed to local modelling agency Unique Models. The agency’s chief executive described the signing as “new and groundbreaking”. Since then, Adan has also signed with the global agency Models 1 and made her first Milan appearance this season at Max Mara. In keeping with the requirements of her faith, she wore a leopard-print headscarf, elbow-high leather gloves and a slouchy grey check blazer.
South Sudanese model Adut Akech was born in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, and moved to Australia aged six. She made her European debut in the SS17 Saint Laurent show. This season she walked in 28 shows. She also landed a cover for i-D magazine, and stars in the current Moschino and Valentino campaigns. “Adut Akech was the standout girl — she absolutely killed it,” says @moremodelsofcolor. “She did all the major shows, such as Givenchy, Prada, Chanel, and became the second black model to open for Valentino after Malaika Firth in SS14 — a huge accolade. She’s also the first really dark-skinned model with Afrocentric features to walk Chanel since Alek Wek.”
Although Wong made her first appearance in Paris in 2015, she created the biggest impact this season and walked in 27 shows, including Victoria Beckham, Alexander McQueen, Balmain and Hermès. Based in China, the 25-year-old has a distinctive short boyish crop and androgynous features; she passes her time backstage reading manga comics and listening to music.
The 19-year-old from Manchester, New Hampshire, made history this season when she became only the second black model to have opened a Prada show in more than two decades (the last was Naomi Campbell in 1997). She was discovered last autumn while attending a festival at Howard University, Washington DC, and is signed to Next Models. “I hope to change the perception of beauty by representing the people that don’t meet the European beauty standard,” she tells the FT. “Not everyone has light skin, straight hair and blue eyes — and there is beauty in that.”
“Before modelling, I thought I was going to be a doctor, eventually graduate and be a diplomat and work for the UN,” said the 26-year-old model in a recent interview with the Fashionista website. With Nigerian, Chinese and Thai heritage, Aighewi’s profile soared last year when she decided to dreadlock her hair. This season she walked for everyone, from Coach to Dior and Chanel.
Simone Thompson, aka Slick Woods, is the 21-year-old Instagram sensation from Minneapolis with 477,000 followers. Woods’s tattooed frame, shaved head and gap teeth have seen her star in campaigns for Marc Jacobs and Calvin Klein. She was cast as the face of Jeremy Scott’s AW18 campaign. This season she walked for the designer in a lime-green wig, and at Miu Miu wearing leathers.
This article was originally published by The Financial Times.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018.