The changing shape of fashion casting

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The changing shape of fashion casting

With every new season on the Fashion Week schedule, there’s a fresh debate about the models chosen to walk its prolific runway. It’s that the age old debate on diversity, one that won’t go away; models are too white, too thin and too pretty. It’s almost become a cliché to speak about it, but this kind of idealised depiction of beauty is still dangerous.
The runway is looked upon by Gen-Z as the epitome of perfection, when actually it’s just unattainable and unrealistic, and not something that we should be striving towards. And it goes further than just the runway, these unrealistic body standards are evident across all forms of mass media: magazines, billboards, TV advertising — this one representation of the ‘ideal body’ is omnipresent, but archaic.
But when you look a little beyond the famous, multi-million pound designers whose bags and perfumes dominate the Western world, there’s a collection of smaller, next generation brands seeking to make a change, by bringing broader variety into the casting of their shows. To put it bluntly, it’s the new designers that will influence the industry-wide change that is needed — and they’re already in the process of laying the foundations for this shift.
Patrick Church, SS19; Photograph by Emily Lipson
Patrick Church, SS19; Photograph by Emily Lipson
“There are so many different, exciting people in the world, why only show people one thing? It is important to break down barriers and to keep moving forward and challenge people’s perceptions,” says British-born, New York-based designer Patrick Church. His hand-painted designs capture the essence of contemporary youth, with themes of love, sexuality, depression, and regret. Despite their resonance with millennials, he opted to use a cast of elderly women for his SS19 collection presentation. Women over the age of 60 donning skin-tight, colourful designs.
There are so many different, exciting people in the world, why only show people one thing?
It was the antithesis of ageism, instead embracing the older community and showing that regardless of a body’s age, it can still be beautiful. “The older generation is often overlooked,” says Church. “These women were some of the most confident, beautiful people I have ever met, so comfortable in their own skin. They wore the clothes, the clothes definitely didn’t wear them.”
This kind of open-mindedness and interest in breaking the conventions of runway ideals isn’t just prevalent in one or two cities, it’s international. New designers all around the world are intent on making a change when it comes to the casting of their shows. They seem to have a more broad-minded approach to identity and representation, and an ability to repel the status quo and do something unexpected — their commerciality isn’t dependent on what is seen on the runway, and their casting doesn’t shape their customer for the coming season.
Valeria Garcia for Marta Jakubowski, SS19
Recognising the need for greater diversity and wanting to use her platform to do something about it, German-born, British-based designer Marta Jakubowski cast Valeria Garcia for her SS19 show. Garcia, who gave birth back in June, controversially walked the runway wearing a breast pump. It was a not-so-subtle nod towards the acceptance of new mothers and their bodies, taking a swipe at the old-fashioned belief that mums should only breast-feed in private, rather than in public spaces.
“It’s important but it’s also just realistic. Our society is diverse,” Jakubowski says. “I find the casting for the show always a very tricky process. I don’t like the idea of judging someone on their ‘look’. Who am I to say that a girl isn’t ‘right’ for the show? Especially not being tall and skinny myself.”
The only way we can become ‘socially acceptable’ is to strive towards the perfection that these models supposedly present
And judgement is where all of this stems from. We’re so invested in what others think about us, the only way we can become ‘socially acceptable’ is to strive towards the perfection that these models supposedly present. Instagram, where breastfeeding and female nudity is often censored, arguably doesn’t help the depiction of beauty ideals.
With models and influencers (who are regularly finding themselves on the runway) gaining millions of followers, a boom in the use of apps like FaceTune and PhotoShop has been created. We’re all editing our supposed imperfections in an attempt to create what society tells us we should be like — and in the process, we’re editing away our heritage and identity.
Behind the scenes at Ninamounah’s SS19 show
Ninamounah is a brand which champions embracing yourself. A gender-neutral brand based in Amsterdam, its collections and aesthetic are often considered controversial as a result of their sexual and revealing undercurrent— there’s lots of leather, exposed skin and sexually charged campaigns. The models that don these racy outfits on the runway repel the idealised conception of beauty and instead depict beauty in all its guises. For its recent SS19 collection, the brand had pregnant models, gender neutral models, people from diverse nationalities, individuals of all different heights — anything goes. It’s embracing anyone and everyone, regardless of their identity, appearance or background.
I ask the label if bigger brands have a social responsibility to ensure their casting features a plethora of models. “Of course,” Ninamounah tells me passionately. “It’s stupid that they’re still so stuck in this old way of seeing beauty. It’s disgusting how the casting is. I think it’s really sickening and inhumane to do it like this. It’s not realistic, the world is not white and thin. They try and show something superior; a human being that you want to be, but I don’t want to be that. It’s such poison to kids that look up to these brands.”
Behind the scenes at Ninamounah’s SS19 show
Behind the scenes at Ninamounah’s SS19 show
But when will the change at the bottom of the fashion hierarchy filter up to the big guns? Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty range showed signs of progression with its first runway presentation at New York Fashion Week. Models of all sizes and races were part of her show — it’s even rumoured that model Slick Woods was literally in labour when she stepped out to show off the brand’s latest lingerie. Of course, classic supermodels like the Hadid sisters and Joan Smalls were also there, but the fact that realistic body representations walked amongst them is evidence that change is happening.
For young men and women to see someone of such influence embracing diversity and turning their back on the fashion industry’s expectations, is empowering and encouraging (and in turn makes the brand stand out from the crowd). It may still be marginal at this stage, but such examples help individuals recognise that in spite of what they’ve been shown in the media and by the fashion industry their whole life, they should embrace who they are and what they look like — regardless of their race, age, gender, or weight.
Ryan Cahill is a freelance writer; ryancahill.me
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