In 2014, a leading US fashion magazine had the highest-ever number of black celebrities on its cover — four. It’s not much of a figure, but any increase in the representation of diversity has always been welcome. The UK edition of the magazine is following suit by putting top model Jourdan Dunn on their February cover — making her the first black model to do so, solo, in 10 years.
The figures are in
It’s no secret that embracing diversity has always been a problem in the fashion industry. Post the New York Fashion Week fall/winter 2014, the website Jezebel.com did some number crunching on the 148 shows. Out of 4,621 looks that were displayed, only 985 were displayed by models of colour — meaning a whopping 78.69% of the models used were white. In 2014, another website, TheFashionSpot.com looked at 44 major print magazines from around the world, and found that out of a total of 611 covers, the ratio of white to other (black, Asian, non-white Latin, etc) models was a drastically skewed 567 to 119.
Closer home, dark-skinned Indian models like Noyonika Chatterjee, Nina Manuel and Diandra Soares have made a mark in the fashion industry, but we do have our share of biases, too.
“In India, certain features are considered more attractive. This conditioning can be blamed on modern consumerist agenda propagated over decades, but it’s a reality. And it isn’t something a brand that needs to make sales can challenge blatantly,” says designer Dhruv Kapur of the label DRVV. Among the foreign models who come here looking for work, he points out that blondes or Africans don’t do well at all — only those with fair skin and dark hair and eyes get work. He adds, “Internationally, brands and magazines have been pushing for more ‘exotic’ women for a while. But isn’t that the sad part in itself — when asked why a designer chose a certain face for their campaign, they use the word ‘exotic’.”
From left to right: Lupita Nyong’o, Ketholeno Kense and Archana Akil Kumar
However, things are witnessing a gradual shift. It has been noticed that diversity is not just important to the public, but to a few designers as well. “I love to showcase my creations on real women; that’s the language we have created. Today, we see models who are black, tribal or from minority races being accepted in fashion,” says designer Anavila Sindhu Misra.
Designer duo Sana and Sulakshana of The Circus point to dark-skinned models like Carol Gracias and Archana Akil Kumar, and even a disabled woman, who have made it big without facing discrimination, adding, “The Dutch model, Debbie Van Der Putten, has starred in a big campaign. So, we feel that without diversity, creativity remains stagnant.”