Fitting Into Fashion

“Wear a short skirt after 40, wear a short skirt if you’re a man”; H&M’s bold new campaign is causing a stir in the fashion world. The fashion industry has always been a battleground in the diversity discourse, with modelling in particular the site of endless controversy. Rightly so, given the power and influence it claims over aesthetic representation and our own body image. But whilst the rest of the fashion world continues to be consumed by the difference between a dress size and the catwalks still wrestle with domination by the white, Western mould, H&M is busy embracing more contemporary issues, tackling the meaning of diversity in the real world.

Featuring 69 models across an extensive spectrum of identities and characteristics, the video promoting H&M’s global “Close the Loop” campaign is the very embodiment of diversity. Including a model to represent virtually every category imaginable, the advertisement addresses ethnicity, age group, religion, body type, colouring, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and just about every other preference a person can differentiate themselves by. From the trivial matter of a redhead wearing red, to the appearance of their first Muslim model in a hijab, the duration of the slick cinematography is dedicated to encouraging individuality, celebrating diversity and breaking boundaries. Concluding this is the tagline: “There are no rules in fashion but one: Recycle your clothes”.

It’s worth noting at this point that the “Close the Loop” campaign in fact promotes donating old clothes to be used in the production of new ones, rather than ending in landfill. An equally commendable cause, yet somehow this feels to be an ulterior motive, its timing detracting from the diversity crusade. The glossy video seems to pale into a charade selling diversity as a marketing strategy; trading off one charitable cause against another in an appeal to the widest possible audience. Notably there is no allusion to the clothing modelled as being specific to H&M the fashion label, rather the endorsement here is upon the brand’s ethical image. Certainly, it is hard to imagine that if the purpose of the advertisement had been solely to sell clothes that such an array of models would have been enrolled. For the foreseeable future, it is unlikely even that you could expect to see as many as two minority group fashion models together again.

Cynical as it may seem, the evidence is clear. The diversity report on Autumn 2015, women’s fashion print adverts shows that 85% of the models cast were white. With such minimal margin for representation by other ethnic groups, this figure suggests that the industry still struggles with discrimination on a basic level, let alone H&M’s amputee or transgender model. The fashion campaign has been hailed by the media as the most diverse the industry has seen, and with such figures evidencing resistance by the rest of the fashion world, this is easy to believe. But the advert is a self-conscious showcase of diversity at that. By setting the models in a specific context of diversity, it fails to normalise them.

In a world where the sample size is a six and if you’re bigger than an eight you’re cordoned off into a segregated category labelled ‘plus sized’, there is no room for normal. Fashion seems to only accept extremes, but where in the spectrum does this leave the average body? For much of the population, we are left faceless in fashion. What’s more, the notion that models are not representative of real people is no longer a valid excuse. With big names such as Cara Delevingne, Miranda Kerr and Gigi Hadid racking up tens of millions of Instagram followers, social media allows us to have a relationship with models like never before. And when a model like Hadid is criticised for having boobs and a bum (apparently neither are allowed on the catwalk), we are equally able to inevitably compare ourselves to models on a whole new level.

But the future of the fashion world also holds hope. As ever with social media, the potential for negativity also offers the opportunity for positive social action, and this new age of ‘Insta-famous’ models hold all the power. Recently posting on her Instagram page, Hadid stated: ‘I represent a body image that wasn’t accepted in high-fashion before’… ‘At least be open if not part of the change, because it’s undeniably happening.’  Whilst Hadid may still be a skinny white girl in reality, her statement therefore reflecting less than a monumental breakthrough in fashion history, the discovery of Mariah Idrissi through her own Instagram page is progress. Idrissi being the Muslim model who sets a record by appearing in H&M’s campaign, she defines herself through her social media account as a ‘Professional Hijabi Model’.

Whilst high fashion continues for the time being to be admittedly less accommodating, the Swedish brand’s campaign is a step in the right direction, demonstrating the adaptability of commercial brands such as itself. With the voice of social media comes popular demand, and with the small matter of profit on the minds of greedy fashion giants everywhere, there is really no excuse to stay slaves to fashion. Whilst we may not all fit into fashion, we can force fashion to fit around us; red-wearing redheads included.

Libby Crotty

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