The world of luxury fashion may be the entity of its own, but from the very start of its glorious history, it’s been a reflection of reality. The biggest events of history had been seen unfold on runways, the mood of the humankind would be expressed through it. From the humble yet revolutionary little black dress to a shift towards unisex clothing – the catwalk shows are what we live by today. And today, the world is in a disarray, facing not one but two enemies – the pandemic and the old nemesis, racism. The unease of our present will shift the future of luxury fashion.
With the ongoing protests and the spread of the Black Lives Matter movement, the luxury fashion community has proven its resolve to fight against social injustice. In fact, it has been seen supporting progressive causes for a long time – but has the world of luxury fashion become a reflection of real-life within its own microcosmos? Diversity and a fight for it remain to be the thing of the ‘outside’ world, so how come we don’t see it reflected in fashion? Back in August 2018, the editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, Lindsay Peoples Wagner, had addressed the issue in a feature titled What It’s Really Like To Be Black And Work In Fashion. To provide insights on the personal effects caused by lack of diversity to those who work in the luxury fashion industry, Wagner has interviewed over 100 people. In 2019, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) had addressed the issue too, which led to the creation of a report on diversity and inclusion – their findings have shown that black and brown people have been gradually marginalized into the industry. And yet, those observing the process see it as an artificial and forced process, therefore sending a message that ‘blackness’ is not beautiful.
The issue is becoming clear – the world of luxury fashion has become the world of its own rather than but a reflection. It still works hard towards creating an illusion, its climate is identical to the non-industry world, but the recent events are making the deception shine through. The #BlackoutTuesday, when many brands would share black squares on Instagram as a tribute to George Floyd, revealed some nasty inside issues. One would be a model and activist Munroe Bergdorf openly calling ‘L’Oreal Paris’ out for jumping the Black Lives Matter bandwagon for the trend rather than due to their own beliefs. Such powerful claim was supported by Bergdorf’s personal story with the brand, which had resulted in herself being fired by L’Oreal over making comments about white supremacy when the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally took place. Her original Instagram post states the following: “You dropped me from a campaign in 2017 and threw me to the wolves for speaking out about racism and white supremacy. With no duty of care, without a second thought. I had to fend for myself being torn apart by the world press because you didn’t want to talk about racism.”
L’Oreal isn’t the only brand that had seemingly joined the movement solely for its popularity rather than their beliefs. Influencers, such as Leonie Hanne who wrote “I’m joining Blackout Tuesday today and muting my feed to give room for black voices that clearly need to be heard! Join the movement and give space while continuing to listen and learn”, have been criticized for their posts being ‘tokenistic’ and empty. Of course, not all brands and influencers had been accused of blindly followed the trend - there were a few such as Sarah Mower to make a bolder statement that carried more weight and would encourage the shift rather than ponder on the topic, therefore pushing the world to change instead of dropping what feels like a soulless notion the followers want to see.
On the other hand, it is understandable why brands, influencers and celebrities chose a neutral approach or a complete silence. Many are actually scared of talking about race-related topics, fearing a public backlash if they get something wrong. Which, in the light of heightened emotions right now, is incredibly easy – any luxury fashion brand or a stand-alone influencer that would make a race-related error risk being publicly called out on the basis of racism even if that was an honest mistake. Such fear of ruining one’s reputation with a single post is what keeps many individuals and companies with the power of changing the world from actually stepping up to do so.
So, how can the world of luxury fashion change? Actually, by following the same course the rest of the world should – research, educate and tackle white privilege. Instead of being ‘aware of one’s white privilege’ it should be about creating the same privileges to everyone, no matter the colour. Nothing will change if people remain ‘aware’ and don’t take action, and such action can be as little as speaking up and diversifying workplaces and boardrooms. Luxury fashion needs do more than create inspirational social media posts to keep the offline movement going. We have seen many designer powerhouses set up donation pools to fight racism, but many still lack the knowledge, research and therefore passion needed to face the issues. We are past the stage when the issue is awareness – we are at the stage, where we need radical decisions and the luxury fashion industry which has been the mirror of the state the world holds the power to bring the change. It is about the time white people in the industry begin researching the issue and come up with the solution – they own research, from their own initiatives, as opposed to black people educating them.
The world of luxury fashion has been a reflection of the world, its issues, affairs and ideologies. Same as with viewing ourselves in the mirror, it allows us to spot the flaws that are to be actioned up – and it is up for us to do so. The fashion industry shows us what is wrong with today’s society and it holds the power of showing us how to fix it. By being a reflection, the fashion world has the power of changing the world. And the best time to do it is now.