Viva Director Liz Willis asks: 'When will we see true diversity on the catwalk?'

Felicity Fox

Posted on April 13 2018

For many, the word ‘model’ conjures up the image of a long, leggy beauty with hollowed cheekbones and a sullen stare, her frail frame elegantly draped in Gucci and her lips pouting moodily at the camera.

Of course, there are many different types of model including male, trans, plus size and petite, but it can’t be denied that these are not the first names that spring to mind when the ‘m’ word is banded around, and they are certainly not at the front of the queue when the invites go out for London Fashion Week.

So how did we end up with such a narrow selection of human-kind representing our diverse society in the fashion industry, and across such high-profile platforms?

This certainly isn’t what was intended when the term ‘model’ was first coined. The Oxford Reference Dictionary defines it simply as:

‘A person employed to pose for an artist, or to display clothes etc. by wearing them.’

Not necessarily female. Not tall or inherently thin. Just a human with a body being paid to wear clothes.

It can be argued that the last few months have marked some definitive progress in gaining visibility for minority groups in fashion - the plus size community in particular - and in renouncing the supermodel era, which began with Twiggy in the 1960s and snowballed throughout the 80s and 90s to give rise to huge stars such as Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell.

Seedlings of progress 2017/18

Fashion giants LVMH and Kering finally banned unhealthily thin catwalk models from featuring in their shows.

New York featured ‘a record 27 plus-size model appearances’ on the catwalk, a notable increase from the 16 featured in the previous season and the six in the season before that, according to ex-model and Glamour Fashion Editor, Lauren Chan, writing for the magazine last year.

Plus size model, actress and body positivity advocate Hayley Hasslehoff led a prominent protest aimed at London Fashion Week 2018, which called for more curves on the catwalk. This gained international press coverage and once again propelled the issue onto the world-stage, making it increasingly difficult for the Fashion Houses to ignore.

What next?

Whilst this is all great news for the plus size fashion community and a notable step forward in the battle to achieving diversity on the catwalk, the wheels of change are still moving alarmingly slowly and there is a lot more work to be done.

Indeed, in today’s age of inclusivity acceptance and freedom of expression, the fashion industry is still lagging woefully behind with less than one per cent of runway models being plus size, even though 55 per cent of women in the UK and 67 per cent in the US fit this category.

So the question remains, when will we be seeing greater diversity on the catwalks? Do the Fashion Houses think they are doing ‘just enough’ to placate us with their perfunctory curvy girls amongst a sea of stick-insects, or is this really the start of a fashion revolution that is ready to fully include the part of society not invited to the supermodel club?

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