Saturday, October 23rd, 2010
As an Asian-American woman, the high-fashion industry constantly reinforces the idea that I'm not representable in the fashion world because I don't have the "ideal look” of European supermodels like Agyness Deyn, Sasha Pivovarova and Freja Beha. But as I scanned the various photos of the runway collections this season, I noticed something simmering on the surface of the shows: Chinese model Du Juan is slowly gaining notoriety, as is her Korean compatriot Hye Park. Chanel Iman and Jordan Dunn, who are both African-American, were a consistent presence at New York Fashion Week. But these women are burdened with the task of representing their races.
Designer Araks Yeramyan said, "I don't cast models for who they are, but for how they fit a certain image I am trying to create. The image I have of who my customer is." If that's true, is the ideal customer 6'0”, blond, thin and pale? I’m ecstatic to see a more diverse face in fashion, but the industry needs to open its eyes. Fashion is at the forefront of all things desirable, from the Victoria Secret models who helped define the term "sexy," to the Louis Vuitton and Prada advertisements that embody luxury, class and style.
Women around the world look to fashion as the standard for class and elegance. By excluding ethnic women, fashion tells its audience that racial diversity isn't acceptable in the highly coveted culture it has created. Many models and designers serve as role models for women of all backgrounds; the message that whitewashed runways send to those breathlessly watching the shows is simple: pale is pretty, everything else just doesn't belong. If fashion is telling people white is beautiful, that's what people will aspire to be. Fashion’s audience is wide enough that its influence is instrumental in shaping the entertainment world; if the fashion industry embraces different cultures, the world that watches will follow suit.
Featuring ethnic women in fashion shows, advertisements, and editorials, makes concepts like beauty, style, and class universal, and recognizes that those things belong to women everywhere. Fashion isn't only about clothes, its about the message your clothes send — and anyone, not just the wealthy white women featured on the runway and in the surrounding seats, can send that message of elegance and beauty through fashion.
Designer Frank Tell put it best when he said, "You make clothes for anyone who would happen to like your taste: that's what fashion is. And guess what? That's not all white women. Not just white women like clothes."
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