Beauty’s New Bor­ders

The lux­ury end of the fash­ion spec­trum isn’t ex­actly known for cham­pi­oning di­ver­sity when it comes to beauty ideals, but could we be on the brink of real change? Kind of ... con­cludes Eu­ge­nie Kelly.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Contents -

One of the most talked about mod­els in the fash­ion world right now cur­rently sports a mouth­ful of sil­ver braces, in­sists on wear­ing a hi­jab, and can only boast 107,000 In­sta­gram fol­low­ers (chicken feed to the Ken­dalls and the Gigis of this world). Nine­teen-year-old Hal­ima Aden’s break­out mo­ment took place on February 15 at Kanye West’s Yeezy Sea­son 5 show dur­ing New York Fash­ion Week, when the So­mali-Min­nesotan, who was born in a Kenyan refugee camp, walked the run­way in a floor-length fur coat and black head­scarf. Her strict stan­dards of mod­esty means she’ll only wear con­ser­va­tive looks that com­ply with her be­liefs, but that doesn’t seem to worry her fairy god­mother, renowned stylist Carine Roitfeld, who cast Aden in Yeezy, en­listed pho­tog­ra­pher Mario Sor­renti to shoot her for the cover of the 10th edi­tion of CR Fash­ion Book. IMG Mod­els signed Aden at break­neck speed, and a week later, she was walk­ing in the Al­berta Ferretti and Max Mara shows dur­ing Mi­lan Fash­ion Week.

Fash­ion de­sign­ers have long used the run­way as a soap­box from which to es­pouse their po­lit­i­cal views, but if there was ever a sea­son when they felt the need to re­act, this re­cent fash­ion month, amid the marginal­i­sa­tion of mi­nori­ties un­der US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s poli­cies, was it. Aden has un­de­ni­ably be­come a poster child for di­ver­sity, but the term has un­der­gone a re­def­i­ni­tion: it now en­com­passes more than just skin colour.

The ris­ing pro­file over the past two years of mod­els such as 24-year-old Ar­gen­tinian Mica Ar­gañaraz (spot her in the cur­rent Louis Vuit­ton cam­paign); 18-year-old Nige­rian May­owa Nicholas (who snared Miu Miu’s spring cam­paign); 20-year-old Imaan Ham­mam (Moroc­can-Egyp­tian); and 24-year-old Ad­woa Aboah (Bri­tish-Ghana­ian), is def­i­nitely mak­ing it eas­ier for women of colour try­ing to break through. In fact, it’s the lat­est Caribbean crop of Do­mini­can darlings (dubbed “the new Brazil­ians”) who are dom­i­nat­ing the big­gest shows and cam­paigns right now, Lineisy Mon­tero’s ar­rival paving the way for Ysaunny Brito and Luisana Gon­za­lez, to name just two.

But per­haps the big­ger story here is that fash­ion brands weren’t show­ing their clothes ex­clu­sively on young skinny bodies this sea­son. Also in the mix were—gasp—“real” peo­ple, plus-size mod­els, mod­els aged from their 40s to their 70s and trans­gen­der mod­els. Ac­cord­ing to Kate Kennedy,

RMIT Univer­sity’s pro­gramme man­ager for the school of fash­ion and tex­tiles, the use of nu­mer­ous trans­gen­der mod­els in shows such as Marc Ja­cobs wasn’t in­tended to be a po­lit­i­cal state­ment or a to­ken ges­ture, but rather sim­ply a re­flec­tion of the wider so­cial de­mand for more gen­der neu­tral­ity and a show of sup­port for the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity. “This is more than a mar­ket­ing cam­paign,” she says. “Run­way gen­der dif­fu­sion has been a fea­ture for sev­eral sea­sons. And on the prac­ti­cal side, the use of trans­gen­der mod­els is per­fect for the over­sized/over­scaled gar­ment, where the body be­comes am­bigu­ous.”

One of the most di­verse mod­el­ling casts of the sea­son was at Dolce & Gab­bana, where al­most all of the cat­walk­ers were “friends” of the brand, other­wise known as “real” peo­ple. In the Ital­ian de­signer duo’s world, that trans­lates to cou­ture clients (Su­san Cas­den and daugh­ter Alyssa Fung), jour­nal­ists (Jo El­li­son of the Fi­nan­cial Times), de­sign­ers (Char­lotte Olympia), the odd aristo or two (Lady Kitty Spencer, Princess Maria-Olympia of Greece); blog­gers (Aimee Song); and vlog­gers (Mar­cus But­ler). Their size­able so­cial me­dia fol­low­ings led Fash­ion­ista. com, among oth­ers, to dis­miss the di­verse cast­ing as among the sea­son’s “most bla­tant plays for mil­len­nial en­gage­ment on [In­sta­gram]” that back­fired (it didn’t make the top five shows that got the most play in Mi­lan). But if you watch all those shapes, sizes, ages, and up­beat vibes on that run­way, every­one gen­uinely looks as if they are hav­ing the time of their life. That’s a win in our books.

Hong Kong-based busi­ness­woman Candy Chuang had given birth to a boy last Oc­to­ber and was still nurs­ing, but couldn’t say no when the de­sign­ers asked her to don a crown and red flow­ers in her hair, and she rev­elled in her two min­utes of fame. “I was ner­vous, but the hair­styl­ist and make-up artist as­sured me I looked ab­so­lutely ‘Dolce’,” she says. “For me, by bring­ing us all to­gether to walk the show, the brand was mak­ing a state­ment—that this was a cel­e­bra­tion of what fash­ion should be. That it should be fun.”

This idea of in­clu­sive­ness was front of mind for cer­tain de­sign­ers at Lon­don Fash­ion Week, most notable Si­mone Rocha, who took an anti-ageist stance by choos­ing to show­case her clothes on older women. (Savvy: that’s the seg­ment most likely to be able to af­ford her USD4,500 cot­ton-tulle dresses). Rocha told WWD the rea­son for cast­ing the likes of 73-yearold Ital­ian ac­tor Benedetta Barzini, 72-year-old ex-model Jan Ward de Vil­leneuve, and 55-year-old Marie-So­phie Wil­sonCarr was to re­it­er­ate that she de­signs for all types. “It’s 100 per­cent mother, daugh­ters, grand­daugh­ters. It’s some­thing I’ve re­ally built my iden­tity on, so it was nice to be able to share that this time,” she said.

TheFash­ re­leases a bian­nual di­ver­sity re­port post-show sea­son, and found New York to have the high­est di­ver­sity rat­ing, with 31.5 per­cent mod­els of colour. Lon­don came sec­ond (28.4 per­cent); third was Paris (25.9 per­cent); and Mi­lan came in last (23.8 per­cent). The fig­ures are a small im­prove­ment on last sea­son—and of­ten only a domino ef­fect from whistle­blow­ers speak­ing out about per­ceived dis­crim­i­na­tion. Case in point: when cast­ing direc­tor James Scully called out Lan­vin in an In­sta­gram post for al­legedly re­quest­ing only white mod­els at­tend its show au­di­tion this sea­son, there was un­der­stand­able out­rage (Lan­vin stren­u­ously de­nied it). Nat­u­rally, it cre­ated waves in the in­dus­try, and even­tu­ally two black mod­els, Joan Smalls and Ali­cia Burke (out of a to­tal of 41 women), walked in the show. “The per­cent­age of non-white to white is still very low,” Kennedy says of the sea­son. “The im­por­tant thing is to re­flect the cus­tomer pro­file. And that’s waaay out­side of the white fash­ion ideal.”

In Paris, the same went with re­spect to size; the only show to fea­ture any­one less than ra­zor-thin was H&M (Stella Du­val and Katy Syme). In Mi­lan, mean­while, Dolce & Gab­bana fea­tured plus-size model Alessan­dra Gar­cía-Lorido. And in New York, Ashley Gra­ham walked Michael Kors, prob­a­bly helped by the fact (and we’re try­ing not to sound cyn­i­cal here) she has more than 4.6 mil­lion In­sta­gram fol­low­ers. Healthy so­cial-me­dia num­bers must be a fac­tor—af­ter all, when body ac­tivist and English model Iskra Lawrence posted a video of her walk­ing for New York la­bel Chro­mat (which fea­tures five plus-size girls), it got al­most 800,000 views from her 3.5 mil­lion fol­low­ers.

But these are lit­tle wins. Es­pe­cially when you pit them against what’s go­ing on at the more mass end of the mar­ket. Such as when cos­met­ics con­glom­er­ate L’Oréal Paris an­nounced in February it had signed 24-year-old An­golan beauty Maria Borges as a global spokesmodel. Lauded for sport­ing her own “short, nat­u­ral afro hair” when she walked the Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret run­way in 2015, she sent a clear mes­sage to all those teenage girls given hair straight­en­ers as birthday presents that it’s cool to em­brace your nat­u­ral beauty. Con­sid­er­ing the mega reach a L’Oréal Paris cam­paign has, it’s an in­di­ca­tor that our beauty ideals are broad­en­ing, right?

Win­nie Har­low at H&M Au­tumn/Win­ter ’17 Lineisy Mon­tero at Tome Au­tumn/Win­ter ’17 Ad­woa Aboah at Sport­max Au­tumn/ Win­ter ’17 Hal­ima Aden at Max Mara Au­tumn/Win­ter ’17 Maria Borges at Wanda Ny­lon Spring/Sum­mer ’17 Ac­tor Benedetta Barzini at Si­mone Rocha Au­tumn/Win­ter ’17

Cindy Bruna at Bal­main Au­tumn/Win­ter ’17 Aleece Wil­son at Mai­son Margiela Au­tumn/Win­ter ’17

Ashley Gra­ham at Michael Kors Col­lec­tion Au­tumn/Win­ter ’17 Ysaunny Brito at Akris Au­tumn/Win­ter ’17 Trans model Dara at Marc Ja­cobs Ac­tor Jen­nifer Tilly at Dolce & Ga­banna Au­tumn/Win­ter ’17

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