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Diversity on the Catwalk

Discussing the contentious issue of diversity on the runways of LFW

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Image: Malik Haddington - Ahmed

London Fashion Week brings with it a diverse array of trends, styles and brands to watch out for, however, ethnic diversity on the runway is a wholly different story.
Models usually encapsulate the same 'uniform' appearance, bearing the socially constructed beauty standards that are celebrated among the glossy pages of fashion magazines such as Vogue and Elle in terms of skin tone and body type. It may be that some designers or catwalk casting directors do not necessarily perceive whether the audience notice the diversity (or lack of), or happen to be affected by it. However a rising trend of criticism towards the fashion industry has been spurred on by an increasing awareness of critical questions encouraging debate over the industry's standards of healthy body image and the perception of models of colour.
Noticeably so, HuffPost UK Style went on a mission during LFW16 in which UK reporter Rosy Chernington sought out fashion revellers' opinions on diversity at the catwalks of London's biggest annual fashion extravaganza.
Poorna Bell, HuffPost UK executive editor has remarked "Surely the whole point about catwalk shows, which is to inspire, transcend and turn fashion into art that liberally walks, is that it should not be tethered or affected by something like the colour of a person's skin?
"Because honestly, in this wonderfully diverse age, when people from all colours, sizes and orientations move more freely in the world, and when you have someone as respected as Naomi Campbell who has been modelling since the 80s saying this isn't right, then what excuse is there really not to change?"
Further to this we might ask: what about our young women and men? What about the young women and men exposed to the fashion industry, flaws and all, flicking through the pages of a magazine, hounded by products, hounded by images of models via all forms of social media and pressured to abide by society's expectations of beauty?
We need to be extremely careful about what image the fashion industry projects and celebrates as 'beautiful', and who they deem to be role models for young women and men, nowadays tending towards social media stars and fashion/media icons. Yet, diversity within fashion is being championed in many ways, ranging from support for plus size and models from a range of backgrounds to a recent petition to allow and regulate the fashion industry for disabled models. Especially intriguing in the rise and influence of social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, Muslim fashion blogger Mariah Idrissi was able to use her influence to propel her into becoming a face of H&M. Neelam Gill also holds rank by being the first Indian model for Burberry. While this is deemed as groundbreaking for such recognisable and popular brands, there is, naturally, a long way to go.

Image: rod
Image: Rod

Positively, during LFW16, at the Clio Peppiat, Topshop and Ong-Oaj Pairam shows, models of different ethnicities were present on the runway and even more so, many were walking the runway with their natural hair, instead of abiding to westernised concepts of beauty and fashion. With a designer like Pairam, who is of Thai origin, it is especially important to see that the designer values diversity and trend-setting by breaking the fashion norm of beauty. Meanwhile, HuffPost UK Style's video sought out opinions from the public on the concept of diversity at London Fashion Week and the general reception was mixed, from there being "some way to go" to the models not being "representative of the U.K." and "we need to have different types of models on the runway". So while we value diversity, appreciate it and even more so acknowledge the complete lack of it when asked, it seems that LFW may finally be getting the message. The fashion industry will become out dated if it does not keep up with the demands for 'real' fashion being available for all.

In the meantime, what can be done to champion diversity in the industry? Keep supporting that fashion blogger you follow on Instagram, set up your own blog, take to social media to highlight and challenge the industry and most of all do not forget that fashion is supposed to be accessible to all, it is not just for the rich and famous.

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