To receive the Luxiders Newsletter, sign up here.
It’s becoming increasingly the norm to see models on runways or in campaigns of a different race, size, age, gender, sexuality or even religion and ability. However, it’s one thing to be seen. But another to actually feel included. To see people of different backgrounds within the company, in positions of influence and power, capable of making decisions that affect not only the interests of the brand but also resonate with their values and beliefs.
Despite these calls for inclusion, the fashion industry still has had its fair share of scandals over the years.
In 2018, Gucci’s autumn/winter runway show included a black turtleneck with a red-lined cutout for the mouth. While the Italian luxury brand claimed the piece was inspired by “vintage ski masks’’, others pointed out the design of the turtleneck was reminiscent of blackface. Blackface is a historically racist practice that was used predominantly by performers of non-African descent to portray a caricature of a dark-skinned person of African descent.
Also in 2018, Dolce & Gabbana launched a social media campaign to promote its upcoming Shanghai runway show. The campaign involved three videos of a Chinese model attempting to eat pizza, spaghetti and cannoli with chopsticks. Chinese folk music played in the background as well as a voiceover incorrectly mocking Chinese speech. Almost immediately, the company was accused of racism and after an alleged exchange between a fashion blogger and designer Stefano Gabbana was shared on social media, the show was ultimately cancelled.
For Burberry’s 2019 autumn/winter collection, model Liz Kennedy called out the British luxury brand for featuring a hoodie with a noose tightened around the neck. Though the design was inspired by the marine theme of the collection, it left an insensitive impression that the brand was glorifying suicide and lynching.
Even though the fashion industry has been making gradual progress when it comes to representation and inclusion, there is still a considerable way to go before the industry can be considered truly inclusive.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and PVH Corp. released the State of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Fashion report, which draws on McKinsey research to present a telling portrayal of the current state of the fashion industry. For example, two in three Black employees report frequently being the “only” in the room, resulting in increased pressure to perform. Almost a quarter of survey respondents observed biased behavior with some frequency, particularly around race/ethnicity and appearance. Or employees of color are more likely to report being judged by different standards.
But individuals like CaSandra Diggs and Lance LaVergne are using their positions to affect change in the industry. As president of the CFDA, CaSandra develops strategies to further the organization’s purpose of championing and educating its membership and the fashion industry at large in areas such as meritocracy, education’s role in upward mobility and apprenticeship. Lance LaVergne, chief diversity officer of PVH Corp., wants to dismantle the industry’s many barriers to access and entry as he focuses on how fashion companies can attract young people and help emerging designers.
However, there are many agents pushing the boundaries of inclusivity in the fashion industry.
Based in London, Crumb is an independent casting agency providing real talent for the fashion, advertising and beauty industries. The agency embraces and nurtures models with an unique character and an individual look, who carry with them a story that they are eager to tell. Crumb believes it is the experiences and insights of its talent that drives creativity with diversity and inclusion being essential values to its talent selection process. It even has a queer manifesto for clients to educate and understand more about the LGBTQIA+ community in an effort to support and respect the roster of queer talent that the British agency represents.
Laura Johnson and Zoe Proctor, a previous social worker and performing arts teacher for young people with disabilities respectively, launched Zebedee Management in 2017. The British talent agency was created to champion diversity in fashion and media including the representation of people with disabilities and trans / non-binary models. Alongside placing talent in paid work opportunities, Zebedee has managed to foster a real community, offering regular workshops as well as running their own campaigns and runways for the agency’s talent to increase their confidence and skills on set.
Aaron Rose Philip
As the first black, transgender and physically disabled model to be signed to a major modeling agency, Aaron Rose Philip is making fashion history. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a baby, the Antiguan-American model started her career at 16 years old and was signed to Elite Model Management a short two years later. She has already modeled for brands like Collina Strada and Marc Jacobs. For Moschino’s spring/summer 2022 runway show at New York Fashion Week, Aaron became the first model to use a wheelchair on a runway show for a major luxury fashion brand.
At just 19 years old, Ellie Goldstein is well on her way to becoming a familiar name in the fashion industry. Represented by Zebedee Management, Ellie was propelled into the spotlight just only last year when she appeared in a viral image for Gucci Beauty in partnership with Vogue Italia. The British model, who has Down syndrome, was scouted by the Italian luxury brand and publication during the Photo Vogue Festival as a part of a digital editorial. With her appearance in Gucci’s campaign, she became the first model with a disability to model their beauty products.
In 2018, Teen Vogue created three covers for its September issue, each one featuring a model with a different disability. The models featured were Jillian Mercado, an American model who has spastic muscular dystrophy; the late Mama Cax, a disabled rights activist with an amputeed leg; and Chelsea Werner, a former champion gymnast diagnosed with Down syndrome.
The Gentlewoman, a magazine that celebrates modern women of style and purpose, featured Margaret Atwood on the magazine’s autumn/winter 2019 cover. One of the most famous works from the Canadian poet and environmental activist of 82 years is The Handmaid’s Tale, a harrowing depiction of a dystopian future where the rights of women are controlled by an authoritarian patriarchy.
Our very own Luxiders Magazine’s Print Issue 6 was launched under the message: Don’t buy this magazine if you don’t see beauty in diversity and inclusion. On the cover of the spring/summer 2021 issue is model Niamh Woods who has ecto-dermal skin dysplasia, which affects all aspects of skin but most noticeably complete hair loss on her head. However, Niamh doesn’t let this stop her as she uses this to her advantage to have fun with her style.