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Diversity in fashion

Diversity in fashion - Balenciaga aw16

The Balenciaga show took place during Paris Fashion Week a little bit more than a week ago, but some people discussed not only the collection itself, but also the fact that Demna Gvasalia, Balenciaga`s new Creative Director and the co-founder of Vetements, chose no black models for the show. I read such comments on Facebook and heard a couple more outside of the online world. It made me reflect a lot and, as a result, we wanted to join the debate on diversity in fashion.

Demna Gvasalia fashion designer

Demna Gvasalia

First of all, why is the issue about “no black models” only? Are there no models of other skin colour and national origin? There are so many, and I bet that among every nation, there are girls, who dream of becoming models, which is great, and we should do our best to make an environment, where it is possible, as well as setting a standard, where different races is ‘The new Normal’. I was grateful for Waris Ahluwalia`s interview in Dazed, in general, but especially the following part, which is exactly, what needs to be emphasized:

“You said something really interesting in your Christiane Amanpour interview, which is that obviously Black Lives Matter is incredibly important, but racial diversity in America isn’t just white people and black people. Do you feel like other minorities in the USA get pushed out of the diversity debate?”

Waris Ahluwalia: “Completely! It’s not even a little bit; they get pushed out completely. It’s almost comical. For example, if you sprinkle a few black people into an all-white nomination list, suddenly it’s diverse? So diversity equals black and white? What about the rest of the world? And of course, diversity has to start somewhere, and it’s great that we’re seeing more African-Americans in more lead roles. But to just talk about diversity as being black and white – it’s a bit of a joke.”

Waris Ahluwalia

Waris Ahluwalia

I totally agree with this, and this is why I find questions like “where are black models?” too one-dimensional. I am certain that it is more appropriate to put it in a different way, as “We want diversity in fashion”, which is a much healthier and all-embracing attitude, which I support. Outside the media, it was some of my Afro-American friends that pointed out the fact that there were no black models on the Balenciaga catwalk, and I do respect their point of view, which is rooted in hundreds of years of not having equal rights. But, if we ever have to move forward in the matter of equality, we have to change our mindset from ‘What’s my right’ to a respect and appreciation (love seemed too strong of a word here) of other people. Diversity is not about you only, but about others. It’s altruism instead of egoism.

By the way, another interesting and important point was made by a stylist and a fashion consultant Shiona Turini on an episode of Man Repeller`s podcast “Oh Boy”. In an interview, Shiona mentioned that from time to time, people discuss the lack of diversity on the runway, but people rarely mention the fact, that the majority of the fashion industry workers are behind the scenes, and there is not that much diversity among them either. This is true, and a new and interesting perspective, and this needs to get more attention. I think, we should not limit ourselves to only solving a problem in one part of an industry – it must be done everywhere on all levels. We need to strive in creating a world, where every single human being knows that he/she can be whoever, he/she wants to be, as long as it is legal, and does not hurt anyone. Full stop. No “buts”.

Coming back to the Balenciaga case. I was wondering, why at all would anyone state that a designer m u s t do this or that? When did we forget that he is the Creative Director? He is the one making creative decisions. And what is wrong about it? It is his vision, and he has the right to share it with the world. That is the reason, he got that job in the first place. I will never get tired of saying again and again, that despite being a business too, fashion still remains a form of art, and art does not necessarily have to be political. Yes, you may choose this medium to express your political beliefs or concerns, but you may also not. Both options should be acceptable, because otherwise we are creating a new form of discrimination. I have read somewhere that ‘the problem with Demna is that he was raised in USSR, and there were no black people’. Yes, there probably were very few black people back in USSR, but this does not make anyone, who comes from there a racist. On top of that, yes, he has surely taken a lot of inspiration from the Soviet and post-Soviet times, combining them with Balenciaga aesthetics, so his aim and goal were to give that particular vibe, and make it as real as possible. And again, I see nothing wrong with that. And – closing comment – a few people have been suppressed there too, so putting them in the spotlight, is in itself an ode to diversification and respect of all humankind.

Of course, Demna could have considered mixing Afro-Americans, Hispanic and Asian into the blend, but it would have compromised his artistic expression, so would that have been a better alternative? Is it literally impossible to do something and not be blamed for offending someone, which makes the whole creative process even more challenging? Not too sure, what it says in his job description, but being 100% politically correct all the time, would take away the focus on making strong collections, which is what he’s hired to do, and does exceedingly well. So does that really make him incorrect and an enemy of diversity in fashion? These are strong words, actually quite judgmental.

Demna just started at Balenciaga, and this was one of hopefully many collections to come. He seems like a smart guy; wanting to create clothes that sell, and bring fashion back to the people, instead of designing for the IT girls and celebs. That’s actually very democratic. Many have felt this longing, so in a certain way he articulated through his designs, what many people craved for. In that sense, he reflects society, and it will be interesting to see, what he decides to bring up in the future. As everyone else, he can’t be a full reflection of everything that is going on in the world all the time and must choose his focus, or, with other words, as an artist, he summons up, what he comes across, which is then expressed in an over-all theme. But there’s nothing, he obliged to do. He is a free individual and an artist. He may be an important influencer, but he can choose his battles himself. Also; was fashion not meant to be a way of sometimes escaping reality?

I would like to point out that writing this text was not intended to offend anyone`s feelings. I simply wanted to share some of my thoughts and pose some questions. I support every person out there, who has been or is discriminated in any way, and I believe in respect, education and dialogue so that in the future, we can improve how things have previously been. All humans deserve respect and equal opportunities, but unfortunately we live in a cruel world, where there is still a long way to go. What we can do, though, is work hard and do our best, not only as professionals in our fields, but also as decent human beings. This way we have a chance to make our world a better place to live in.

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Photos are from Vogue.com and Dazeddigital.com.

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