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Fashion is often criticized for its lack of diversitywhether it be on the runways or off. That reputation is well-earned when considering the absence of people of non-European descent in the industry. Models are often an easy way to gauge race representation simply because the backgrounds and origins of the models are known and it is easily quantitative.

Considering the end of the year is approaching, every industry attempts to quantify its successes, failures and advances. In fashion, those lists consider the best looks of the year, the most notable moments, the best and worst trends, emerging talents and controversies. Recently, while stumbling upon one of these lists on Fashionista, the topic was diversity among Vogue cover models.

According to the site, “22 percent of Vogue cover subjects were non-white,” which only points to the fact that the other 78 percent were occupied by white models. And it gets worse: amongst the 22 percent, the majority were of non-European or American Vogue editions. Therefore, most non-white cover models were featured on their country’s editions of Vogue (India, China, Taiwan, etc.). Great.

Even better, “about half of Vogue’s 18 editions failed to feature any non-white cover subjects at all.” Fashion has an incredibly superficial perception of race, particularly when the idea of having one or two favorite non-white models is meant to represent the reality that we live in a world where all types of beauty is appreciated. Fundamentally, the issue is that the industry’s idea of racial transcendence is having a select number of non-white models at the top while maintaining white models as the norm.

This week, the Pre-Fall 2012 shows took place with various houses showing their wares. For this show, Karl Lagerfeld chose to take on India, where he has never been. For the occasion, many Indian models were chosen. Usually, Chanel is not necessarily known for its diversity or lack thereof because the house is not at either end of the spectrum as the worst or most inclusive.

My opinion about Chanel’s decision to use Indian models is split. On a negative note, it can come off that Chanel is using the models to authenticate their collection, as a way of following through with the theme. For example, if you had a circus-themed show, you might want elephants or performers to make your theme complete. If this was the reasoning behind this model casting, it is deeply offensive.

Yet, on a positive note, there has been criticism about fashion taking and appropriating elements of other cultures and making them exotic to use for profit (Navajo Print Lawsuit against Urban Outfitters, Tribal Print against American Apparel, etc). And so, by actually having Indians wear the clothes, Chanel may be giving a nod to the culture and acknowledging that this may be their adaptation but they are not claiming the culture for themselves. That would allow for the equivalent of a nod to India’s culture which is always a positive.

In any case, I do not know what the intentions behind the choice were. I can only hope that Chanel is attempting to set a good example and continue the road to standardization of models of all origins in fashion.

– Nadjma Sako

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