NYFW Spring 2012: Beverly Johnson, Vivienne Tam, Wendy Williams Talk Fashion Diversity
Celebs, journalists and fashion experts weigh in on color-less runways
Loop 21 attended the Spring 2012 New York Fashion Week and couldn't help but wonder if the debate over fashion designer's including more models of color had any impact this season (see our NYFW diversity count here). We weren't alone in our thinking and asked some notable fashion week attendees, designers and organizers to give their thoughts on the matter.
Beverly Johnson, first black woman on the cover of American VOGUE
Loop21.com: Why do you think some designers don’t use a diverse stable of models on their runways?
Johnson: You would have to ask the designers that but I don’t think it’s right and it may help explain why some of their shows are so boring.
Fern Mallis, Organizer of New York Fashion Week
Loop21.com: What do you think about model diversity on runways?
Mallis: Well obviously diversity is the world as it is and so seeing more on the runways is how things should be. There’s been progress but of course not as much as I’m sure we’d all like.
Loop21.com: I spoke with someone who mentioned that the trend towards less diversity on runways in the last decade and towards using white models exclusively in some cases began with a specific Miuccia Prada show a few years ago. You’re a fashion insider. Do you think that’s where it all began?
Mallis: Well I’m not sure if one can entirely say it was Miuccia but she is someone who is known to have a point of view that can be very specific and she is very influential.
But I really don’t think a lot of designers think about the issue of diversity. It’s not intentional. They just don’t think about it…for many they see it as another aesthetic issue…
Loop21.com: Like hair color?
Mallis: You could say something like that, even though obviously it’s not.
Robin Givhan, Newsweek and The Daily Beast and Pulitzer Prize winning fashion writer
Loop21.com: You’re a veteran of all of the fashion shows. What do you think of diversity on the runways? Is it better this year or worse?
Givhan: Do I think it’s perfect? No. But I think considering where the runways were a few years ago I think it’s a significant improvement. There was a point 3 or 4 years ago where I regularly went to shows and there wasn’t a single model of color on the runways.
I think people are much more aware of it. But I definitely see that there’s more diversity.
Loop21.com: I’ve spoken to some experts who have said that diversity in the industry was actually better 20-30 years ago. Do you think that’s true and if so why is that the case?
Givhan: Last year I wrote about this issue for New York Magazine. One of the fundamental truths is that this is a very open-minded industry but it’s also an industry that tends to view race as another aesthetic touchstone and sometimes it’s in and sometimes it’s not. And that’s a very unfortunate thing to say about someone’s race, obviously, but at the same time I think if you recognize that underlying sensibility then you have a better understanding of why some seasons the runways might be all blond and another season all of a sudden Brazilians are in or Eastern Europeans and there was certainly a period in the 70s when Black models were in.
And when I started covering the industry in the early 90s there was a period of Kiara and Veronica Webb and Oluchi and Tyra, so they had a period of being “in.” So you could argue things were better then, but I don’t think the industry decided “I don’t like black people anymore.” It’s sort of an ebb and flow I think people would be more satisfied with the industry if they stopped connecting race to just aesthetics but if they recognized that it has more far reaching affects than that.
Vivienne Tam, Designer
Loop21.com: You are known for having models of many different colors in your runway shows, something I wrote about last year. Is that intentional for you?
Tam: I like to celebrate the beauty of the world—different colors different nations. It’s all so beautiful.
Loop21.com: So diversity is something you think about?
Tam: I love watching different colors and different nationalities wear my clothes, [because] even in the exact same outfit each person brings their own personality but I also like seeing my clothes appear on different looking people. The energy is very different. One design can look entirely different on two people of different colors and I find that both beautiful and inspirational.
Wendy Williams, talk show host and Vivienne Tam Show front row attendee
Loop21.com: How important is it to you to see diversity on the runways?
Williams: I like to see diversity. I’m not a stickler for it but I enjoy seeing it and I like to see it natural…you know not forced.
Loop21.com: How important is it to you to support designers of color?
Williams: It’s really important. But more important, I like to support my taste and it just so happens that Vivienne is a designer of color who makes clothes I like wearing whether she was of color or not.
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