Diversity on the runway: Designers Rio Uribe and Sophie Theallet discuss

Zac Posen AW 16/17

The struggle to include more diversity at fashion week has been a long one with only minor improvements made each season. However, a number of brands this AW16 in New York showed a considerable amount of progress not just in showing models of colour but by also embracing the full spectrum of what it means to be different, an outsider, or just simply a person that hasn’t been spotlighted before. Some of this change can be attributed to the trend in street casting, the most notable being Kanye West’s Yeezy show that included a mixture of traditional models and those with zero experience all converged together, blending supermodels like Naomi Campbell, Veronica Webb, Liya Kebede, and Ajak Deng among unknown names and faces. Another designer that has championed street casting in recent times is CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner, Rio Uribe of Gypsy Sport.

Gypsy Sport AW 16/17

Gypsy Sport AW 16/17

Uribe described over email how the street casting of his presentations act as a connection between the runway and the real world, and is ultimately influenced by the customer he’s creating for. It isn’t something that he’s had to think about too much, describing it as a “very organic” process. This is something that many designers will attest to doing but fall short of when it comes to the models they send down the runway.

“Gypsy Sport is a brand for everyone, so it’s always been important to show a range of humanity. Simply, I think fashion should be marketed to everyone and anyone who wears clothes,” says Uribe.

‘Much of our street casting helps to bring so many types of people, rather than the standard beauty that we book from agencies. And real people on the runway makes our fashion more relatable to the real people off the runway.”

“Diversity is a such a hot topic, but to me it’s what I see every single day in New York City. So I’m naturally inspired to showcase different types of people in Gypsy Sport. That goes for diverse colours, sizes, ages, creeds, etc.”

Another part of the diversity issue each fashion week is the obvious lack of racial diversity cast by designers. Since the Spring 2015 runway season, online industry site The Fashion Spot has been creating an official diversity report to monitor and bring attention to the issue. Jennifer Davidson, Managing Editor of the site, says that each season since has seen a gradual improvement in diversity, specifically relating to including models of colour. In Spring 2015, 83% of the New York runways were white, while a year later in Spring 2016 that percentage had dropped to 71.6%. That number isn’t where it needs to be yet but an 11.4% increase season on season shows promise and this week the industry began talking about how FW 16/17 seemed like the most diverse yet.

Zac Posen AW 16/17

Zac Posen AW 16/17

“We’re still compiling the data for the Fall 2016 season, but from a spectator’s point of view, the runways seemed more diverse than ever this season. Chromat, Zac Posen, and Tracy Reese have been consistent with their diverse casting for several seasons now. And of course there’s Yeezy, which is always very multicultural. The Row and Monique Lhuillier consistently cast mostly white models, though Monique Lhuillier showed some incremental improvement this season.”

Brandon Maxwell, Tome, Ohne Titel, Rag & Bone and Eckhaus Latta also stood out for their multicultural runways this season, as did Sophie Theallet with an almost all black runway by casting director Jorge Morales. Theallet, whose Spring 2016 campaign is fronted by African-American supermodel, Veronica Webb, says that her casting isn’t a temporary seasonal inspiration.

“We have always been honored to have diversity on our runway and in our ads; for me it is natural and normal. My friends are international and diverse, as are my clients. Diversity is so ubiquitous nowadays; we are reflecting the world of 2016.”
In 2009 the designer also had an all black model cast of about 30 girls which the brand never sought to draw attention to and wasn’t a decision relating to the business but purely was a way for Theallet to celebrate “all the beauty, grace, and shades of the colour girls,” a move that was close to Theallet’s heart.

“Our brand ethos is (that of a) global citizenship, diversity, and showing the beauty of all cultures; this is part of my DNA. The world is diverse, I don’t live in a box, and certainly my fashion has to be free. I hope that next season this dialogue on diversity will be something of the past, that diversity is the universal standard.”

Davidson agreed with this sentiment but said that New York is in fact the most multicultural of all the fashion weeks. “I think the upward trend towards inclusivity proves that diversity is not a stunt. Though New York still has a long way to go towards fully embracing diversity, it is still far ahead of London, Milan, and Paris. I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the season pans out.”

Sophie Theallet AW 16/17

Sophie Theallet AW 16/17

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