Photo Courtesy Schön! Magazine
“Fashion is a reflection and a projection” – Tim Blanks
As you know I always like to return to Fashion Month when it is over. Though I skim collections and see the flashing videos on Instagram or even sometimes attend myself, it just registers in my brain as a blur. I am always excited to see the clothes but do not have time to really think about what I am seeing. So in a different twist on my usual Fashion Month bibliographies, I decided to dig a little deeper into the word “diversity”.
In fashion proof of diversity or lack thereof is simply calculated by how many models in each category are represented and whether or not there is an increase or decrease. Like in the field of research quantitative data takes us only so far and does not show the complexity of the issue or represent the lived experience of the individual behind the number. Just focusing on numbers becomes a body count rather than a meaningful conversation about what real inclusion and diversity might and could mean.
So I offer, along with Emma Childs @emmachilds4, three “case studies” of Fashion Week shows as a way of highlighting these important topics and perhaps generating some lessons learned for designers and anyone else interested in representation and inclusion.
As always I welcome your wisdom and thoughts.
MM6 –Emma Childs
During the peak of Milan Fashion Week, MM6 Maison Margiela presented their FW 2019 Collection in a cloudy dreamscape that offered a puffy reimagination of cozy Fall and Winter wear. The brand described their event as an “immersive padded world” with standout pieces including hyperbolically oversized puffers, layered knits, and pleated skirts. Bringing these whimsical pieces to life were local, Italian women pulled right off of the fashionable streets of Milan and none of them were under the age of 70. Inside the cloud-like universe that Margiela created, these women danced, laughed, and marvelously represented the timeless wearability of the futuristic collection. Interestingly enough, however, the lookbook that MM6 Margiela promoted did not include any of the women from the presentation and instead, featured one young model. The decision to not include the vivacious models in the lookbook left many bewildered. In the weeks afterward, we are left with some space to reflect on why MM6 Margiela chose to selectively feature these older women and whether or not the brand’s casting choice included genuine efforts of inclusion or performative measures during the spectacle known as fashion week.
What was done well
An innovative approach to a show that honored the city where the brand was presented by highlighting it’s streets and fashionable older women. This presentation showed the timeless and playful nature the brand wanted to convey through the clothes as well as classic signatures of Martin Margiela.
A more innovative approach to the lookbook design instead of the business as usual lookbook could have included a mix of the more formal younger model photos with candids and photos from the presentation. In this way, the market is expanded and the innovative work that was done was not erased. In other words, if you have a good idea you can’t show that you are afraid to sell it.
Within the context of a raw space reflective of the city outside it and lit with natural light, Deveaux, under the creative direction of Tommy Ton and founded by Andrea Tsao and Matthew Green, presented their AW2019 collection.
More of a fashion performance piece than a show, with an original piano score written and performed by Henri Scars Struck and choreographer Stephen Galloway.the diverse, intergenerational cast (ages 13-82) moved through the space as they would through the city outside. The models entered one-by-one wearing monochrome looks that could work for either gender. As they moved through the space and the pace of the music sped up, they began to touch, hold hands, form groups that were representative of families. It was real people, wearing real clothes in real life. Interestingly this level of inclusion, rather than distracting from the garments themselves actually made them stand out even more.
Traditional silhouettes, rendered in a modern way using luxe fabrics, the clothing is of the kind you keep forever and wear every day, It’s a kind of high-end uniform a city dweller might choose such as loose and minimal suiting, and color-blocked car coats. Ton describes the collection as “beautiful everyday pieces with a gestural, loose fit.” The styling showed how pieces could be worn in multiple ways as well as included looks from the previous menswear collection. The same garment was sometimes worn by a man and a woman. Ton describes in a WWD interview how the brand shows pieces from the collection to both men and womenswear buyers without specifically noting whether it is mens or womenswear and seeing what the buyers gravitate towards.
What was done well
Inclusivity was achieved organically, fully integrated into the story the brand wanted to tell about the collection and amplified the beauty of the clothes. Inclusion was modeled in the way the models interact with each other in the performance. True inclusion comes from relationships. Sustainability was addressed through recycling past collections, brilliant styling showing that single pieces could be worn in multiple ways and the design of timeless, genderless pieces.
By not focusing on a specific target group you open up the possibility that your market will dramatically increase. More people want to be in control of their own styling so the choice is essential. Sustainability can be addressed by good design, creative thinking and styling inspiration.
Tommy Hilfiger x Zendaya
Paris is still the leading fashion capital of the world though as we move toward Europe away from New York we see the representation numbers begin to decrease. Though many brands claim a commitment to diversity by adding a model of color or an older model, real inclusion will only come when those represented have a meaningful seat at the table which means access to the power of decision-making. In a moment to be proud of the US, Tommy Hilfiger x Zendaya showed Paris the way true inclusion needs to be done.
Inspired by “The Battle of Versailles.” The 1973 legendary face-off between French designers of haute couture like Yves Saint Laurent and American design. The likes of Christian Dior and Yves St. Laurent faced off against the American upstarts such as Oscar de la Renta, Anne Klein, and notably the young African American designer Stephen Burrows. The real stars of the show were the exuberant American models, ten of whom were African American, including Pat Cleveland, featured again in this show and literally twirled down the runway wearing an asymmetrical. Interestingly, the seminal book on the Battle of Versailles was written by a black woman, the wonderful fashion critic Robin Givhan. Check out this interview where Ms. Givhan discusses her book.
It was to these groundbreaking models, or in her words, “the women who made it possible for me to be here”, that Zendaya paid tribute to by casting black models of all sizes, ages, shades hair textures and colors. Her words to the women who came before, “I see you”, are also reflected for today’s women in the range of diversity of how black can and should be represented. No tokens in this show.
The clothes were fun, very 70’s vibe featuring platform heels, striped sweaters, flared trousers, groovy prints, fitted denim and leather midi skirts with halter tops and dresses.
Closing the show was the legendary Grace Jones still vamping strong in a gold bodysuit and a shimmering blazer, smacking her rear to the sound of her song, “Pull Up the Bumper”
Just like in 1973 when America showed Paris how things had to change in fashion design, this show is a strong reminder there is way more work to do when it comes to diversity in fashion. In order to do it right power needs to be shared with those who really know what inclusion means and in who gets to have a say.
What Was Done Well:
A smart collaboration between an informed and politically active young celebrity who uses her platform responsibly and understands how powerful her influence can be and an experienced and successful white male designer. What was clear from the collection itself all the way through the show was evidence of shared decision-making power (I would love to ask Zendaya and Tommy what they learned from each other).
Can’t get to the complexity of what true inclusion means without having everyone you claim to be representing at the table