Fix­ing the Red Car­pet Di­ver­sity Is­sue

WWD Digital Daily - - In Focus: Business Insights -

A reg­i­mented VIP sys­tem, run by a small cadre of pub­li­cists, too of­ten leaves mi­nori­ties out in the cold.

There has been a wave of progress since fash­ion ac­tivist and for­mer model Bethann Hardi­son called out the fash­ion in­dus­try on its bla­tant lack of di­ver­sity in its most pub­lic space — the fash­ion show. Hardi­son, who was keep­ing tabs on the num­ber of mod­els of color be­ing cast to pa­rade the cat­walks, per­son­ally penned let­ters to the top stal­warts of the fash­ion in­dus­try, out­lin­ing the is­sue and call­ing for change. Her brav­ery to speak on this topic sub­se­quently led to her win­ning the CFDA Founder’s Award, but more im­por­tantly, it is thanks to Hardi­son that the de­fault stan­dard of beauty is now be­ing chal­lenged and changes are slowly be­ing made.

But great progress on the celebrity red car­pet is yet to be seen. There is a clear dis­con­nect be­tween pro­gres­sive mes­sages be­ing con­veyed on cat­walks and ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns and what is be­ing seen in re­al­life pub­lic mo­ments with celebri­ties.

Hav­ing spent four years work­ing at Bri­tish Vogue, be­fore the ar­rival of cur­rent edi­tor in chief Ed­ward En­nin­ful, I had the mis­for­tune to sit in on far too many meet­ings where op­tions for mod­els of color on cov­ers were dis­missed, be­cause those cov­ers didn’t sell as well as the Kate Moss, Ken­dall Jen­ner or Bella and Gigi Ha­did cov­ers. After leav­ing Vogue, a nat­u­ral tran­si­tion into celebrity styling re­vealed that the sit­u­a­tion on this side of the in­dus­try was nearly iden­ti­cal. I dis­cov­ered that pub­lic re­la­tions teams cre­ate an ar­bi­trary list with a select pool of ac­tors and ac­tresses they want to dress and build re­la­tion­ships with over the course of the year. If a client is not on the list, then the chances of their stylist con­firm­ing a look are pretty much null, re­gard­less of the cal­i­bre of the event or ta­lent they pos­sess.

A reg­i­mented VIP sys­tem is put in place for most lux­ury brands, cre­at­ing al­most im­pen­e­tra­ble stan­dards for mi­nor­ity VIPs to break through. With no one re­ally hold­ing them ac­count­able for their bi­ased de­ci­sion­mak­ing, most brands have lit­tle in­cen­tive to re­visit this sys­tem and chal­lenge their own stan­dards. It’s dif­fi­cult for stylists to be vo­cal about this prob­lem, as they fear ru­in­ing a re­la­tion­ship with the brand for their other clients. So, for the most part, this prob­lem re­mains an is­sue that is be­ing con­sis­tently swept un­der the car­pet.

It’s im­por­tant to ac­knowl­edge that a part of the is­sue VIP teams strug­gle with is a dearth of ap­pro­pri­ate op­tions to of­fer the ever-grow­ing ex­panse of celebri­ties. A new chal­lenge for celebri­ties in the age of so­cial me­dia is en­sur­ing their pub­lic image aligns with de­signer names that put them in a mem­bers’ club of fash­ion in­no­va­tors, which then hope­fully leads to lu­cra­tive brand deals and cam­paigns.

After a fash­ion show of more than 100 looks, by the time the last model steps off the cat­walk, more than half of those looks will have been ei­ther put on hold by brand am­bas­sadors and friends of the house or con­firmed for place­ment on the most im­por­tant car­pets each sea­son, which in­clude film fes­ti­vals like Cannes and Venice, and the holy grail of global red car­pets where ev­ery de­signer wants to see their de­signs — the Em­mys, the Os­cars, the leg­endary Met Gala and the Gram­mys.

In my work, I’ve built a di­verse port­fo­lio of clients and it is far more dif­fi­cult for me to con­firm looks from lux­ury de­sign­ers for my mi­nor­ity clients. These clients are of­ten the same age, win­ning no­table in­dus­try awards, per­form­ing to sold-out au­di­ences and break­ing records at the box of­fice. The dif­fer­ing fac­tor is their race, size or gen­der, and they are left frus­trated, won­der­ing what blocks the sar­to­rial ac­cess that their peers are al­lowed. The ques­tion is, then, “Do phys­i­cal at­tributes usurp ta­lent?”

At a re­cent din­ner, a de­signer ques­tioned why I wasn’t dress­ing my clients in his looks. He was shocked to hear that the re­sis­tance was com­ing from his own team. He was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in one of my clients and their work and im­me­di­ately rec­ti­fied the prob­lem, so that their name was added to the list. This demon­strates that de­sign­ers should try to be more ac­tively in­volved in the VIP as­pect of their brand.

The in­dus­try stan­dard is such that de­sign houses en­trust this duty to a small team of VIP ex­ec­u­tives, who be­come the de­ci­sion-mak­ers for the brand when it comes to de­cid­ing which celebri­ties will be dressed. Hav­ing had the op­por­tu­nity to per­son­ally meet a lot of the names work­ing be­hind the scenes at fash­ion houses, I’ve no­ticed that very few de­ci­sion-mak­ers are mem­bers of marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties in so­ci­ety. It seems that the ap­proved lists of celebri­ties for a brand be­come a roll call that re­flects their so­ci­etal sta­tus. But what hap­pens to the celebri­ties who find them­selves on the out­side of these in­di­vid­u­als’ per­sonal spec­trum? What op­tions for dress­ing are they left with?

The in­fra­struc­ture of hu­man re­sources across the fash­ion in­dus­try as a whole needs to en­sure that rep­re­sen­ta­tives of var­ied back­grounds are em­ployed on the staff, so that a mul­ti­tude of per­spec­tives around the board­room guar­an­tees that, where de­served, there’s a look for every­one.

If Hol­ly­wood has been quick to al­le­vi­ate the con­cerns of many mi­nor­ity groups who ac­cused the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try of be­ing racist, misog­y­nis­tic, and nar­row­minded, the fash­ion in­dus­try is fall­ing short of un­der­tak­ing such ef­forts. The range of cre­ative work be­ing pro­duced now is a mix of di­verse nar­ra­tives that re­flect the mul­ti­cul­tural world we live in, and it’s time the fash­ion in­dus­try, thought to be ahead of the curve on is­sues of this na­ture, took re­spon­si­bil­ity and caught up.

Zadrian Smith is a celebrity stylist and edi­tor in chief of PETRIe, an annual, in­de­pen­dent and global print and dig­i­tal me­dia plat­form.

Chris­tian Siri­ano styled Les­lie Jones for the “Ghost­busters” premiere after the ac­tress ex­pressed de­sign­ers wouldn't out­fit her.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.