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Venia Brykalin on the fashion industry fighting racism

Last October, Balenciaga and Vetements shows helmed by Georgia-born designer Demna Gvasalia became the highlights of Paris Fashion Week. However, Gvasalia’s triumph was marred by a scandal: the designer’s work was criticized for the all-white casting of his shows.

Statistically, the ratio of models from Asia, Africa or Middle East versus those originating from the CIS, Baltic and Scandinavian countries is one to three in the fashion industry. The spring/summer shows featured 25.4 % of black, Asian and Middle Eastern models. This is a slight improvement over the previous season (24.7 %) and last year (22.4 %). Among models of colour, dark-skinned girls prevail: Afro-american and Latin American models represent 13.7 %, while the share of models from Asia and Middle East is 7 % and 4 % respectively.

The models of colour making their appearance on the runways is the result of democratization of fashion and a growing interest in the codes of street aesthetics. Inclusive castings have become signature for the shows of Alexander Wang, Olivier Rousteing of Balmain and Riccardo Tisci of the Givenchy era. The flagships of the new wave are the designers that champion multiculturalism: Grace Wales Bonner, Virgil Abloh of Off-white, Shayne Oliver of Hood By Air and Brandon Maxwell. The most reactionary in the diversity matter remain Japanese designers – Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons and Junya Watanabe continue with entirely whitewashed lineups for their shows.

Accused of racial insensitivity, the Demna Gvasalia and Lotta Volkova tandem has responded by launching the Balenciaga spring/summer campaign, which features models from Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands and United States, joined by Shujing Zhou from China and South Sudanese British model Alek Wek with her closely cropped hair. The lesson has obviously been learnt.

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