By Chere Di Boscio
We often hear about ‘diversity in fashion’ – and it usually refers to having more ethnic models on the catwalks. But surely there’s more to it than this?
The LSESU Fashion Society certainly thinks so. In an effort to elevate the insufficiently-crossed bridge between the fashion industry and academic research, the Society recently hosted a Fashion Show at the Saatchi Gallery designed to showcase the work of nine emerging designers.
This project began with two academic panel lectures open to the public at the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) in October. Panelists ranged from Sociologist of Fashion Dr. Joanne Entwistle and Political Anthropologist Dr. Mukulika Banerjee to Madeleine Ostlie of AAMO Casting. There was also a series of video interviews over the summer with industry figures and creatives such as Caroline Issa, Crack Stevens, Alizé Demange and Helene Selam Kleih. All of those invited were engaged in critical discussions and questions around the theme of diversity, giving it a platform in lecture and documentary form.
Those discussions formed the flagship event of a larger project entitled 199Z: Diversity Revisited, which aims to take a moment of reflection in both visual and intellectual discourses, and re-focus on the nuances and problems within discussions around ‘diversity’ which the organisers believe is currently overlooked. The show invites us to ask several questions, including: what does the term ‘diversity’ really mean? What are we really trying to achieve by being ‘diverse’? What comes to mind when one hears the term diversity? How is diversity expressed?
Nine designers from around the world were highlighted on the catwalk—Louise Poet (France), Jakeyoung Shim (Korea), Maddie Williams (UK), Yujin Pochkun (Ukraine), Sijia Wu and Ziyu Zhang (China), Memunatu Barrie (Netherlands/Sierra Leone), Timna Weber (Austria/Slovenia), Peiyang Zou (China). The creators themselves came not only from a broad range of cultures, but from a range of academic backgrounds as well.
The show was a joint effort between LSE students (who acted as the main organizers and were also present as most of the models) and creatives (MUAs, stylists, photographers and models) from London’s LGTBQ+ and POC communities. The catwalk show was a stunning visual reminder of the the vastness and dynamism of the intellectual space behind a current keyword, often thrown around in universities and the press.
The beauty of seeing the artistic power of fashion and how its aesthetics can communicate powerful ideas had the effect of not only evoking such strong emotions to the viewer, but also provided a visual ingress to the vastness of this intellectual space and the need to go searching for more within it—rather than just simplifying it.
At the heart of this project are visions of diversity, learned lessons and the personal experiences of the designers as reflected their collections. It also underscored the fact that diversity cannot be easily ‘achieved’ in one fell swoop; rather, it is a continuous processes that need to be questioned and directly engaged in. And above all (for us), it highlights the parallels with issues of sustainability, which was a theme that was also central in much of the exhibited work.
What does diversity in fashion mean to you? Let us know in the comments section!
Main & 6th image – Alexander Chai. All others: Irene Kurinna. Fashion credits: first image Timna Weber, following three by Maddie Williams, then Timna Weber; final outfit by Louise Poet.