Diversity leads as black models dominate fashion show runway

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Joburg agreed that 'black is beautiful'

25 August 2017 - 11:05 By Sibusiso Mkize
Diversity is becoming a key word in global fashion industry.
Diversity is becoming a key word in global fashion industry.
Image: Simon Deiner Photography

Remember that mantra of the late 1960s and early 1970s - "Black Is Beautiful"? Well, it was on the tip of everyone's tongue last weekend at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Joburg.

Black models dominated the runway from the theatrical Kluk/CGDT show to the breathtaking Orapeleng Modutle show that had the audience in raptures.

For years, models of colour have been put on the back burner and sidelined at events on international runways from Milan to Paris.

But over the years, people like Bethann Hardison, a former fashion model and the founder of the Diversity Coalition, an initiative to increase diversity in the fashion industry and expose racial prejudice, have encouraged designers to put on shows with a more diverse contingent of models.

Of course, in Africa, it would be bizarre if shows weren't inclusive. Fashion show producer and production director Deon Redman says the trend towards inclusivity in the choice of models was apparent in all shows this year.

"Most of the designers chose their models from all racial groups for shows, but the Kluk/CGDT show had only black models on the catwalk. Designers Malcolm Kluk and Christiaan Gabriel du Toit's original 'muse' for the collection is a woman who looks like a cross between Solange and Kathleen Cleaver (of the Black Panther movement), so they thought they would pay tribute to her with an all-black model cast," said Redman.

For years, models of colour have been put on the back burner and sidelined at events on international runways from Milan to Paris

Considering issues regarding race around the world, from Donald Trump's thoughtless comments to new immigration laws, encouraging diversity is more important than ever if we want to live in a tolerant and inclusive world. It would be irresponsible to not display diversity at every opportunity.

Redman says his fashion shows are always inclusive. "In general, though, the shows are and have always been diverse and inclusive with regards to casting.

"To do otherwise in the South African context would be ludicrous. This season we were fortunate to have had some beautiful professional models available for the shows.

"Ultimately, designers book a model who they find inspiring and ones that are able to show their collections in the best light," Redman says.

The response has been positive.

"The Kluk/CGDT show received high praise, which is great. The collection looked fantastic on the models. More importantly, it inspired sales, which is the ultimate goal.

"I think what was clear was that the show, while drawing from several inspirational reference points, was ultimately about the models, the young women who felt authentically themselves and expressed their empowerment," said Redman.

Gone are the days when only a certain skin type was considered beautiful, and it's certain that diversity in fashion is now here to stay.

• This article was originally published in The Times.

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