NYFW: Yeezy and Diversity
Hate on body stockings all you want. Kanye, a longtime supporter of different standards of beauty, brought out a large group of models that were diverse in size, gender, race and appearance for his Kanye West x Adidas Originals line. Runways are no longer being limited to the 6 foot tall, 100 pound woman of European descent. Models of all nationalities, body types and gender identities are now being propelled into the fashion world and are not being told to take a backseat. Yeezy Season 1 featured nine rows of guys and girls, of varying shapes and sizes, from big busts and butts, to varying statures and skin colour. His clothes may not be revolutionary but the fact that he had such a diverse range of faces didn’t go unnoticed. Vine wisely pointed out “Kanye’s yet to graduate from his fashion design schooling. When we question his design qualifications and write/tweet him out of the industry, we fail to give him credit and an ample dose of critical thinking. Fashion is not well known for it’s feel-good philosophy, but freezing out newcomers all in the name of tall poppy syndrome is wasted energy. Energy which could be diverted to combat institutional discrimination, whether it be on the grounds of race, ardent Taylor Swift support, or tall poppy syndrome.” Vanessa Friedman for the New York Times reiterated, “Of the 260 shows on the men’s and women’s wear schedule, only three with any global reach are by African-American designers.”
Seeing people who represent different ideals of beauty leads more people who do not fit the cookie cutter mold of beauty to feel confident and in turn have a desire to be involved in fashion as a consumer, fan, model or designer, which only serves to make the entire industry stronger. It allows models and others to focus on the opinions that they have of themselves, as opposed to being forced to take the opinions of others into account.
The modelling industry likes to claim that they are innovative and that they exist on the cutting edge, but there has been very little evidence to support this claim thus far. The industry has been typically built on traditional standards and hasn't always made individuals of differing ethnicities, identities, shapes and sizes feel welcome. For an industry that prides itself on delivering new and exotic ways for a person to style themselves, it hasn't done a very good job of implementing the same mentalities when it comes to welcoming fresh blood into the industry and giving them the opportunity to shine.
Even though a great deal of progress has been made, the fashion world is still overwhelmingly dominated by white women who are thin and white men who do most of the major fashion design. In all cities throughout America (the land of the free and the home of the brave), eight out of every ten models who are cast are white. Out of the rest of the models who are cast, black, Latin and Middle Eastern models make up a pitifully smart percentage.
The presence of models from different backgrounds and with different body types provides hope for the future. Hope that a young girl who is not a size 2 will still see herself as beautiful and attempt to pursue a modeling career. Hope that a man who has experienced a major disease can walk his walk proudly on the runway, without fear of being mocked or used as a photo op for press hungry designers and models.
This year's New York Fashion Week gave us the chance to see people modelling that we never thought possible. Jamie Brewer, an actress with Down Syndrome made a stunning entrance to the runway and quickly won over a variety of observers. Her appearance almost immediately went viral and was applauded in many corners for showcasing a new standard of beauty. Winnie Harlow made headlines by becoming one of the first women to ever model on a major runway while suffering from vitiligo. Androgynous models were also given the chance to strut their stuff, as well as transgender models, such as Laverne Cox. Even disabled models and plus size models were able to enjoy a much deserved moment in the sun. While this year's New York Fashion Week does provide models who are different from the accepted society norms with hopes for the future, all of the progress made means nothing unless these changes are able to last over the long haul. Otherwise, it makes the fashion industry look bad as a whole.
Unless these changes to Fashion Week are made on a more permanent basis, then models who do not fit the mold of the thin white European will continue to be marginalized and even worse, they will feel exploited when they finally are given the opportunity to be seen on a major stage.
Only time will tell if what took place at New York Fashion Week was a true changing of the guard or if it was merely a moment in time before things revert back to normal. There are certain corners of the modeling community who do not believe that serious change is afoot, that the status quo is going to come back in a big way for the next major modeling event. I’m crossing my fingers, hoping that this is not a mere one year blip on the radar screen. But to all of you who do not fit into the accepted norms, take heart. The people have spoken and they are tired of the homogeneous standards of beauty that they have been forced to accept. Change is coming.