In the past, it's felt like the fashion industry had a narrow vision of what inclusion actually meant. Traditionally, fashion has been reserved for thin, primarily white people with a lot of money — in other words, a space that failed to recognize the diversity and reality of most of the population. In 2018, though, diversity and inclusion in fashion has become more of a focus and topic of conversation. Thankfully, that change is reflected on the runway.
According to The Fashion Spot, 36.9 percent of the models on the NYFW 20 were models of color, and that figure is a 31.5 percent increase from the runways in Fall 2017. Additionally, every single runway show that presented at NYFW had at least two models of color walk the runway.
And despite the fact that the runways are putting more models of color in the spotlight, some of them fly under the radar outside the fashion industry. Major brands like Christian Siriano and Chromat are known for their diverse, refreshing runway shows, and they almost always make headlines. I went to NYFW 2018 with the desire of catching some of the brands with a similarly diverse approach, just flying under the radar. Along the way, I spoke with designers, models and makeup artists about how they’re seeing diversity reflect in fashion week, the steps being taken and its importance overall. Here are three shows that are low key putting models of color at the forefront.
One of the best examples was the Pyer Moss show. From those in attendance, to the models walking the runway and the choir that provided the soundtrack, the show was seeped in melanin. The collection and show sought to make a statement of the plight of black Americans, from subjugation and confinement to perseverance and hope, closing out with a rendition of Kendrick Lamar's "Alright."
"I was in tears after the show," admits model Kalah Christina. "I was in tears not only because of the music, but just the statement. The collection was called 'American, Also' so the idea behind it was to make a statement of ‘You know what, you brought us into this country as a black race and yet you’re still discriminating against us and we’re American also. We belong here too.' And that just touched my heart. Just hearing the amazing voices in the band and everything we were wearing and the strength in our walk. It was just unforgettable honestly. It is such a gift to be apart of that."
Vivi Zubedi is somewhat of a renegade. In a time of inescapable Islamophobia, especially in the US, she stages shows that proudly feature hijabs on the runway and showcase traditional Muslim aesthetics via her high-glam, yet distinctly conservative wares.
The term "fashion statement" has been around for ages, but the mere existence of Zubedi's line takes the term a step further. Without words, her show this past week made a bold statement and provided a representation that the whole week's calendar would have lacked had her show not been staged.
"The intention is to have a collection that transcends cultures and is wearable by all," designer Vivi Zubedi tells me. "My main goal is to introduce South Kalimantan to the international world, and with me, introducing traditional fabrics such as pagatan and sasirangan is the right way to introduce South Kalimantan. I also want to improve the welfare of the weavers in the region. This sasirangan fabric is made 100% by women."
Aside from the clothing, even the makeup represented the region, the tones corresponding to the Indonesian environment.
"My hope is, with me being on stage like NYFW: The Shows, the eyes of the world can see the beauty of these fabrics and are compelled to go there and witness the way they make this beautiful fabric," says Zubedi. "International commerce is important piece of bridging the gap, both wage and cultural."
Drawing inspiration from the Inca culture in Peru, Naeem Khan’s latest collection is awash in global influence. The collection of gowns, trousers, jackets and capes are an upscale twist on traditional motifs from Peru’s indigenous population. From the vibrant colors, bejewelled embellishments and inclusion of the region's distinctive hats, the collection pays tribute rather than appropriates. Khan's non-homogenized vision extended beyond the collection and into the show as well.
"It’s totally important because we live in a multi-cultural world," says Naeem Khan about the diverse casting. "We don’t even look at it like two of this or four of this or 12 of this. We look at it from a point of view that we need to include everybody and we look the best within all the cultures and we bring it on the runway."
Lead makeup artist Gato says casting typically plays a role in approach and makeup, but the vision for the Naeem Khan FW18 show, was inclusive from the start.
"I think that sometimes when the makeup is based on nude colors, you really need to be very focused on having the right color to do it, but in this case the makeup was based on a '70s party and the '70s was just an era, years when he diversity was really visible on the streets and in the disco. You have the reference of Club 54 [sic], there were black, Indian, super blonde girls, people from everywhere, so it reflects in the collection, the makeup and the diversity of the casting."
As for how diversity plays into his collections at large, Khan says, "It’s very, very important. It’s not just for the look of my collection. I just feel it’s important to me as a humanitarian. It’s important to me as a person who understands discrimination because I’m a person of color and I know I’ve been through things. So to me, it’s always important that we have this message."