April will be remembered as a momentous month for diversity in Fashion. On April 10th, British Vogue cracked the glass ceiling by appointing Edward Enninful as its first ever male and black Editor. Days later, Gucci unveiled their pre fall campaign featuring only black Models. Although the campaign was first announced in January, its release, coinciding with Enninful’s appointment, marked a further turning point for an industry perceived to be resisting calls for diversity.
The fashion industry has been under fierce criticism for its lack of diversity and its continued determination to use models who match some very narrow standards of beauty: Tall, Thin and mostly White. Last year – which itself was an improvement – saw less than 25% of Non White models on the runway, with New York leading the way with 30%.
So the Gucci decision was hailed as a welcome reversal of a gloomy trend. Beyond the diversity debate, the campaign also referenced the artistic world of the celebrated Photographer Malick Sidibe. He was famous for capturing the “joie de vivre” and the youth culture of the newly independent Mali in the early sixties. The homage couldn’t be timelier, as it coincides with the first anniversary of his death and a renewed interest in his work. The photographer’s first UK solo exhibition at Somerset House, featuring some of his most iconic pictures, was extended until February this year.
The cynics may view it as an astute attempt at capitalizing on the rising interest in Contemporary African Art. And it is true that one or two decisions – no matter how historic do not make a trend. However, a trend does require a succession of seemingly isolated events. Change does require some pioneers like Enninful and early adopters to lead the way. Only time will tell whether other brands will follow suit in the upcoming fashion shows or whether the glass ceiling still has some long years ahead and will need further blows before it comes crashing down at long last.