The world of fashion has always had an air of exclusivity around it. The billion-dollar industry is full of glamour, and is also a beautiful source of inspiration for all sorts of people. However, like most of the television and film industries, literature, music, and art, the world of fashion has never really taken big steps to be more diverse, until now.
This season, we saw a noticeable increase in black models on the runway. 19-year-old Lineisy Montero walked for Prada this season – it was her first ever show - and she wore her hair in a natural afro. Wearing hair naturally shouldn’t be such an event, because white models do it all the time. But, when black women’s hair has been politicized and ridiculed for so long, it is really encouraging to see that Prada is re-introducing some depth into the industry. Following this debut, Montero's afro went viral; she landed the cover of WWD and walked for Givenchy, Miu Miu, and Céline in Paris.
Representation matters. So many people grow up wanting to be a part of fashion, and if you’re white, you have a long list of models and designers to look up to. Being a person of colour who wants to break into modelling or designing is difficult enough, but it’s worse when you don’t have a role model. In an industry that is so heavily involved in outer beauty, seeing someone who looks like you is a huge source of encouragement. Gigi Hadid, Karlie Kloss, and Cara Delevigne – all big names in the modelling industry, and all white – deserve to be celebrated, but black models need to be celebrated just as much, and for now, maybe even more.
Some people will argue that Lineisy Montero’s natural hair is not a big deal and that people of colour are a big part of the fashion industry. However, black women’s hair is still the butt of ignorant jokes, like Guiliana Rancic’s racist comment about Zendaya Coleman’s dreadlocks on Fashion Police – she said that Coleman looked like she smelled of “patchouli oil or weed.” Representation in the fashion industry is one of many steps needed for people to stop “other-ing” women of colour. It will help people see women of colour as just as beautiful as white women, especially when these women are modelling without being forced to compress themselves into white beauty standards, such as straight hair.
That was the backbone of the #BlackOut movement. In the first couple of weeks of March, black people from all over the world of all skin tones, religions, genders, and abilities took to Twitter and other social outlets to share pictures of themselves to bring black beauty to the surface. We are constantly exposed to all kinds of beautiful white people in every aspect of our lives, but are usually only ever shown black beauty and people of other races and ethnic origins if they resemble standards of white beauty. Coincidently timed with Montero’s catwalk debut and a slew of brands going beyond their typical “one black girl” catwalk diversity quota, we couldn’t help but stop and take notice of a shift in focus.
The fashion industry should have taken strides to open itself up to diversity much earlier, but the fact that a label as influential as Prada is celebrating black beauty is promising. We can hold out hope that the afro is not going to be celebrated as part of a revival of the 70’s-chic style, but will become a constant, as black women need to be able to feel comfortable to wear their hair naturally. The range of what is beautiful is vast. The fashion industry may seem materialistic, but it celebrates beauty. Fashion design is an art form, and art should not be exclusive to one race.