Published on February 26, 2014 | by Phoebe White

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London Fashion Week dominated by white models

White model on the catwalk at London Fashion Week

More than 80 per cent of LFW runway models this year were white, down slightly on last year [Hassan Nezamian]

The debate about the lack of ethnic models seen in fashion shows has been intensified by this year’s London Fashion Week, where once again the catwalks were dominated by white models.

Analysis by Arts London News shows that 84 per cent of the runway models at February’s LFW were white.

The British Fashion Council (BFC) has praised labels such as Topshop, Unique, Burberry and Tom Ford, whose shows all featured women of various nationalities, and  shunned the idea of ‘runway racism’.

The BFC’s stated: “We strongly assert that all participating designers – whether they sit at the helm of global brands or have small independent labels – should recognise that London is one of the most multicultural cities in the world and should consider reflecting this demographic over their advertising collateral, at their shows and at their presentations.”

However they admitted that as “the BFC are not directly responsible for casting, it’s impossible to say how much of this messaging is being realised.”

Initiative

Catwalk diversity is becoming a high profile issue and is being raised at fashion weeks all over the world, with famous models choosing to speak out against the apparent discrimination.

British model Jourdan Dunn recently stated: “Girls get cancelled last minute all the time but at least it wasn’t because of my skin tone. Which I often get in Paris.”

Dunn’s comment followed the launch of the ‘Diversity Coalition,’ founded by fashion veterans and activists including Bethann Hardison, Naomi Campbell and Iman Abdulmajid.

The initiative was launched last October with an open letter criticising the fashion industry for its reluctance to use non-white models.

The letter said: “Eyes are on an industry that season after season watches fashion design houses consistently use one or no models of colour.”

Diversity

The letter mentioned designers that they felt have been particularly averse to diversity on the runway; JW Anderson, Mulberry, Preen and Alexander McQueen were just a few of the designers listed.

However, before his death in 2010, Alexander McQueen had been vocal about the fashion industry’s tendencies towards racism, stating:“I want to be honest about the world that we live in, and sometimes my political persuasions come through in my work. Fashion can be really racist – that’s mundane and it’s old hat. Let’s break down some barriers.”

American women’s lifestyle blog Jezebel has made it their mission to observe the amount of ethnic faces seen on the catwalks of New York Fashion Week, where racial discrimination is said to be worse, year after year.

In the aftermath of New York Fashion Week, which precedes its London counterpart, the blog declared: “model racial diversity has not improved” and showed that only 9.75 per cent of the models to walk at NYFW were black, 7.67 per cent of models were Asian and 2.12 per cent were Hispanic.

Analysis

“Ethnic minorities should be seen in fashion constantly, not just as a trend now and then.” – Chloe Watson

ALN followed Jezebel’s example and analysed seven of the main show packs for LFW Autumn/Winter 2014; these packs are sent out to designers from agencies with the models suggested to use for their shows during fashion week.

We analysed the packs for IMG, Storm, Elite, Models 1, Next, Premier and Select, where we found that only 68 out of 435 girls put forward to the fashion houses were black, Asian or Hispanic.

This means that 15.6 per cent of the girls proposed for the catwalk at this season’s London Fashion Week were from an ethnic minority in comparison to Autumn/Winter 2013, where the same agencies only suggested 13.8 per cent of girls that were not white.

While the small increase in the amount of models put forward for this season’s shows is hopeful, the industry is still predominantly white, continuing to disconnect itself from society today.

These figures support McQueen’s views that there is a disturbing side to the British fashion industry; only a small proportion of girls embody the diversity that Britain is well known for, and in some cases ethnic diversity can be a profitable game.

More often than not, designers will use Asian women to appeal to the profitable Chinese market, branding and using cultural identity as commodity.

Experiences

Fashion show at LFW February 2014

Models are often dismissed by casting directors after the few spaces allocated to ethnic girls are filled. [Hollie Bracciale]

Chloe Watson, a student at LCC and a model represented by Storm Model Management, said she can see some people are chosen over others: “Stylists and directors want the girls to look very uniform. It’s very narrow-minded because they have a vision. I’ve been at a show before where the hairstylists have had no direction on how to style the girls with Afro hair to fit with the uniform look of the show – it can make models feel very singled out.”

She continued: “I think it’s a shame because they only use girls from ethnic minorities when it’s trendy. For example, last year Asian girls were in high demand. Ethnic minorities should be seen in fashion constantly, not just as a trend now and then.”

However, male model Kevin Vedina has mixed feelings about his experiences with racism in fashion and believes it’s not always about the colour of your skin.

“Sometimes it works for you, sometimes against you. Although I am finding in the male model scene there is beginning to be a bit more of a demand for black models from clients. But even then, it’s very hard to try and break through. Clients often don’t think about black or white; if you don’t have the look they want at the time then they won’t have you,” he said.

LCC journalism student Julliet Atto who attended this season’s London Fashion Week: “I only saw a couple of fashion shows this year and from what I saw it hasn’t gotten any better.”

“It has to be equal opportunity and there isn’t any. But the fact that people are talking about it is a start and I love what Naomi and Iman did with mentioning names and holding designers accountable. That’s the only way forward,” she added.

Harmful

Sarah Bunter, a casting director who has worked on campaigns for Topshop and Whistles, also spoke out about the discrimination she has witnessed and said designers are unsure about hiring black and ethnic models as they believe they are “too extreme” and “their features don’t fit.”

Cameron Flynn, a BA Magazine Publishing student at LCC, held a similar view, adding: “Advertisers think ethereal, alien, white women are what we want to see. It is crazy because it actually does not represent society at all.”

He continued: “Labels have a vision and don’t want it representing normality. People with a skin tone that isn’t white can often be regarded as not the ‘look’ the designer wants. It can be very harmful to people who admire the women on the catwalks today.”

These stories of models being sent away from castings because “they already have a black girl” is something all too familiar for many young women in the industry, and the fight for models to be seen as more than just a statement or a trend goes on as the £21 billion a year fashion industry continues to grow.

 

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