Fashion has long had a problem with inclusivity. While the industry is becoming more global, with a greater focus on international markets, models of colour continue to represent a small percentage of those in campaigns, editorials and on the runway. The Fashion Spot’s most recent runway diversity report found that just 38.8 per cent of models cast in New York, London, Milan and Paris were non-white. Meanwhile, diversity in all its other forms – including the participation of older, plus-size, transgender and non-binary models, as well as those with disabilities – is still rare. Plus-size models accounted for just 0.69 per cent of those who walked the runways last season, while only 0.77 per cent were openly transgender women and non-binary models.
Although there have been moves towards inclusivity over the last few years (the autumn winter 2015 runways, for instance, were 80 per cent white), much more remains to be done. Below, Vogue asks four runway regulars how the industry can become truly inclusive.
“It’s been amazing to see more models proudly wearing hijabs”: Halima Aden
Born in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, Halima Aden moved to the US at the age of six. She made her New York Fashion Week debut in 2017 at Yeezy and has walked for everyone from Max Mara to Alberta Ferretti. Aden is the first hijab-wearing model to appear on the cover of British Vogue and Vogue Arabia, the first to wear a hijab and burkini in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit and has her own hijab line, Halima x Modanisa.
“I started modelling two and a half years ago, and it was a learning experience for everybody involved. Most people had never worked with a hijab-wearing model, who dresses more modestly and has wardrobe restrictions. Early on, I used to bring an entire suitcase full of hijabs, scarves, turbans and turtlenecks to shoots so that stylists would have more options. I did whatever I could to help and it’s always been very collaborative. It’s funny because there are always hairstylists on set and they don’t have much to do – they love me because they can just have fun, enjoy the shoot and not worry about doing my hair.
“I have to give the industry a lot of credit because I’ve seen so much growth in a short time. It’s been amazing to see more models in campaigns and on the runway proudly wearing hijabs, and I think my agency IMG really paved the way by signing me and taking that risk. The people I work with are also really considerate. They make sure I have my own private dressing space and they let me go and pray, and then come back to set and shoot. While I’m fasting during Ramadan, they make sure my nails don’t get painted and use fake nails instead [because nail polish must be removed before ablution as it doesn’t allow water to touch the nails which makes the ablution invalid]. When it comes to inclusivity more broadly, the most important thing is that we continue having this conversation and invite models to contribute to the industry in other ways too. I started out as a model, but now I have Halima x Modanisa, my own 47-piece hijab line that includes pre-tied turbans. It’s so great when models can do more, have a voice and talk about important things. I think that’s the next step for fashion.”
“The industry needs to create new icons”: Luc Bruyère
A model, actor, dancer and visual artist, the multi-talented Luc Bruyère was born without his left arm. He has gone on to redefine traditional standards of beauty, appearing in presentations for Kenzo, campaigns for Nike and performing at the historic Paris Opera.
“After graduating from art school in Brussels, I arrived in Paris at the age of 18. At the time, I was studying theatre and acting, and I couldn’t even imagine being a model – especially without my left arm. But then I met Humberto Leon and he cast me in a show for Kenzo. In the presentation, I stood completely naked on a pedestal like a piece of art, my body painted with a marble effect. It was then that I understood that I could become an example for others, the sort of example I never had growing up. After that, Citizen K magazine offered me my first cover. Since then, I have danced with Marie-Agnès Gillot and soon I’ll be directing my first film.
“It can be difficult to find your place within the fashion industry. There were many agencies who didn’t want to represent me because they thought I was too different. The mission for fashion now should be to promote self-acceptance and embrace our differences. The role of casting directors is important because they can give us access to designers and CEOs. There are also lots of young designers bringing diversity to their shows, but I want to see more of that from bigger brands. At the moment, I see diversity in editorials and campaigns, not so much on the runway, but some brands are doing it right – I love the casting at Vivienne Westwood and Gucci, for instance. Going forward, I think fashion needs to look back at the 1980s and 1990s. That was a time when being a model meant breaking the rules and having a personality – just think of Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. I think we need to get audacious again. The industry needs to create new icons and celebrate diversity. I’m still considered an exception and I don’t want to be an exception anymore.”
“Fashion is changing the way it looks at gender”: Stav Strashko
Trans model Stav Strashko has walked the runway for Marc Jacobs and Coach, been a muse to Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, and broken boundaries across industries. In 2018, she starred in the film Flawless, for which she became the first transgender woman in the history of Israeli cinema to be nominated for the Ophir Award for Best Actress.
“When I first started modelling, the Israeli fashion industry had a hard time casting androgynous models. As a result, most of my early career was spent working for European and Asian markets, even though it wasn’t much easier there either. I’ve been modelling for ten years now and I walk for many top designers, but the thing that is closest to my heart is my leading role in the Israeli film Flawless. I was nominated for the Best Actress prize in the Israeli equivalent of the Academy Awards, and I was the first transgender woman ever to be nominated in that category. That made me very proud and I felt closer to my country.
“Fashion is changing the way it looks at gender. It’s already come a long way in the past few years, and that has made a huge community of people feel less isolated. We need to understand that the industry can have an impact on the way our society views certain things. When it comes to casting, we need to seek out as many people as possible from diverse social backgrounds and different cultures, and make sure their voices are being heard. I think this benefits brands and consumers. It allows companies to reach out to more people and means that customers can identify with the brands they are buying into. Street casting is also becoming more and more popular, and I think it makes fashion more accessible. Perfection is boring – people just want to see what’s real.”
“When we say ‘curvy’ we just mean normal”: Robyn Lawley
The Australian model is an advocate for body positivity, having been one of the first women above sample size to appear in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. She has been vocal about the need for change and last year started a petition calling for Victoria’s Secret to be more diverse and inclusive of body shapes and sizes on its runways.
“When I started out in the industry over ten years ago, you didn’t really see curvy girls on the catwalk. For me back then, it was all about editorial and trying to snag one shot in one magazine. Otherwise, curvier models were mainly doing catalogue. When you’re 18 or 19 and seeing other girls do cool stuff that you can’t do because of your size, it’s very strange. It took years, but slowly photographers wanted to shoot us. They didn’t see why the industry should be so segregated, but often they wouldn’t actually have the right clothes for us. Half the time you’d wear what you could fit into or it would be open from the back or you had to be in lingerie. Sports Illustrated was huge for me. MJ Day, the editor of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, has been trying to push for more representation for years. She’s curvy herself! And look at what they’re doing now with Tyra Banks back on the cover at 45 and Halima Aden wearing a hijab and burkini.
“To this day, there seems to be a ridiculous ideal and I don’t know who’s dictating it. With Victoria’s Secret, I spoke out because I was tired of seeing the same body type over and over again. I knew [Victoria’s Secret executive] Ed Razek was notorious for commenting on women’s bodies. He said no one wants to see plus-size or trans models, and he’s wrong. He’s eating his words now because the show isn’t returning to network TV. Going forward, it’ll have to get with the times otherwise it’ll be obsolete. It’s so funny when we say ‘curvy’ because we just mean normal compared to the very slim and young bodies we’re used to seeing in fashion. It’s empowering to see curvier girls walk in shows, and if it doesn’t happen it’s just because people are scared – scared their decisions won’t be well received, that people won’t buy their clothes or that they’ll be judged somehow. Designers are our last hope and they need to be the ones to change the game. Some designers see us as mannequins and they just want to get their designs on the runway, but at fittings there are seamstresses. After designing my own swimwear line, I realised that you can make samples in any size very easily. To me, that part of the argument is null and void.”