Claims that New York Fashion Week was the most diverse in the show’s history are inspiring, but the first Paris Fashion Week in 1973 may have actually set precedent for the diversity of runway models from the very beginning.
In 1973, 10 designers from France and the United States gathered their collections and models at the Palace of Versailles to showcase their best designs for a publicity stunt intended to raise money to restore the dilapidated palace to its former splendour. Fashion media also saw the event as a moment for American designers to prove that the fashion world was moving away from what many saw as the conservative conventions of French design. It became known as the Battle of Versailles.
As Robin Givhan details in her 2015 book on the event, world politics of the 1960s brought about a change to what people saw as culturally valuable, and many were beginning to regard the pomp and circumstance of the French fashion as increasingly alienating. Conversely, American designers like Stephen Burrows, one of the Americans who went to Versailles, were coming up with designs that excited the public precisely because they felt accessible and wearable.
Previously, American designers had pulled inspiration from their French counterparts, sometimes engaging in what the French designers saw as outright plagiarism. However, by the 1960s, American fashion was making its own waves, often intentionally ignoring French convention. In conversation with Brittany Luse, co-host of podcast The Nod, Burrows claims that ahead of the 1973 show, he “wasn’t too up on who all the French [designers] were”, and instead drew his inspiration from the world around him. He drew particular inspiration from the black women who modelled his clothes, describing them as “dominant [in the industry] in New York at the time”, and “more museful [than other models]” for him as a designer.
This perhaps explains why 10 of the 36 models the American designers brought to Paris in 1973 were black women. As Givhan explains, the American fashion industry was heavily influenced by the rhetoric of the Civil Rights and Black Is Beautiful movements.
Despite experiencing a litany of setbacks, including the French designers monopolising rehearsal time and the American set designer confusing metric measurements for imperial ones, the American designers and their models stole the show. During Burrows’ show, Hardison and her colleagues walked to the tune of Bill Withers’ ‘Who Is He (And What Is He to You)?’, moving their bodies in a way that Burrows described as proto-voguing. As a result, European fashion houses began hiring black models and the fashionability of ‘blackness’ became widespread. For American fashion during the late ’60s, ‘blackness’, as a concept, was as fashionable as heroin chic would become in the ’90s. In fact, Hubert de Givenchy was so inspired by the way the American models looked on the runway at Versailles that for a period of time he almost exclusively hired black models.
However, as the fashionability of ‘blackness’ became less marketable, Givenchy and the rest of the industry abandoned what seemed to be a promising advancement of diverse representation in the fashion world. In fact, the fashionability of ‘blackness’ in the ’60s and ’70s may be exactly the reason that the industry has a diversity problem today. While progressive ’60s discourse on black identity did serve to empower the black community, Givhan explains that this also created an accepted form of ‘blackness’ that became a way for mainstream culture to exoticise and exploit the very people it claimed to empower.
As fashion historian Rikki Byrd details in her piece for The Fashion Studies Journal, “Fashion is an industry that doesn’t like to talk about race, but… doesn’t mind dabbling in it for the purposes of marketability.” In effect, the fashionability of ‘blackness’ did not amount to true inclusion of the black community within fashion, rather the lasting power of that diversity was only sustainable so long as it remained profitable. By the mid-’80s, designers like Burrows and the models he used had fallen from favour, prompting Bethann Hardison, a star at the ’73 show, to devote her post-modelling career to promoting further diversity in the industry as she had experienced its decline.
Recent coverage of New York Fashion Week praised its historic diversity, but further investigation demonstrates that diversity on the runway still only goes so far, often excluding body types that aren’t seen as commercially beautiful based on age or weight. With recent criticisms of pinkwashing during the 2018 Pride season, wherein brands were accused of using Pride iconography to draw in customers without actually contributing to causes that benefit the LGBTQ community, consumers are taking a closer look at motivations behind diversity initiatives across all industries.
It is becoming increasingly evident that while representation itself is an important part of increasing the acceptance of marginalised peoples within mainstream culture, that diversity also needs to have staying power. As Paris Fashion Week rolls out, it will be interesting to see how the fashion world responds to continued criticism of the industry’s fair-weather commitment to inclusivity on the runway, and whether their commitment to diverse representation is motivated by more than incentive to bring in more revenue.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.