Vetements and Balenciaga. The two shows that were set to define the season. Why? Because the zeitgeist houses share creative director, Demna Gvasalia, whose gender-bending designs have been heralded as 'revolutionary' and whose challenge to conventional show scheduling has been celebrated as a shining beacon of hope in this, the age of fast fashion. So what was he doing when he sent only white models down the runway for both shows? It seemed a shocking misjudgement on his part, but a judgement nonetheless, in a time where race, gender and sexuality are being discussed so frequently – most notably within the fashion and advertising industries. What makes his decision more absurd is the fact that a wealth of models of colour are opening, closing and quite frankly running the shows. Imaan Hammam, Lineisy Montero, Joan Smalls, Karly Loyce, Ajak Deng, Maria Borges, Herieth Paul, Liu Wen, Soo Joo Park are the faces of Gucci, Céline, Chanel and Prada. They're dominating our Instagram feeds and bagging all the career-making beauty campaigns, so why Gvasalia's reticence and is there more to it? Models Leomie Anderson and Nykhor Paul have both argued that racism still very much exists within the fashion industry and what goes down the catwalk is different from what happens behind the camera. Leomie took to Twitter during NYFW to call out the lack of diversity and unsatisfactory treatment of models of colour backstage. The British model who is a Victoria's Secret model and was part of Kanye's Yeezy casting this season, called out poorly-prepared makeup artists, suggesting she even had to bring her own makeup along with her.
South Sudanese model, Nykhor, chose Instagram to vent her frustration via an open letter addressed to "white people in the fashion world" but more pointedly towards makeup artists who are ill-equipped or, seemingly too lazy to learn how to work with different shades of skin colour. Then this week, veteran supermodel and icon Naomi Campbell spoke to Teen Vogue of her continued disappointment over the industry's lack of education and support. "When I was younger, I encountered this same issue. I would be backstage at shows and there would be stylists who didn’t have any experience working with black models," she explained. "I’d always bring my own products — my own makeup colours, hair products everything — just to be sure that I had everything I needed to achieve a certain look. It’s disappointing to hear that models of colour are still encountering these same issues all these years later." Naomi has joined forces with renowned activist Bethann Hardison and ex-supermodel Iman to create an initiative, Balanced Diversity, that fights for inclusion and equality. "I think this issue only underscores the importance of what Bethann Hardison, Iman, and I are doing with Balance Diversity," Naomi said. "We’re using our voices to encourage the industry to be inclusive of racial diversity. And this applies to everything from casting models of colour to having resources they need for shows, like hair and makeup." It's astonishing to consider that young models are having to bring their own makeup bags and hair tools with them to fashion shows, but it's unsurprising when you consider the lack of diverse casting outside of, maybe, London. If houses like Vetements, fashion's current darling, have been labelled as a kind of modern youth culture movement and not just a fashion house, are casting all-white shows, questions have to be answered. Let's hope models like Leomie and Nykhor continue to use their mobile phones as weapons of defiance and change.