'Runway diversity is so important because we live in a diverse society and that should be reflected on the runway,' said designer Ashish Gupta after his most recent London fashion week show.
'Fashion shows are aspirational, so if we have all white models in a show, one has to ask what that says about us,' he continued. 'I always make an effort to have very diverse castings but I think that really that should be the norm, not the exception. I think beauty comes in so many different forms. It’s not just black or white, there is a whole rainbow in between.
He goes on: 'We are so lucky to live in a world that welcomes and is a home to so many different people, so how can the definition of beauty be so narrow. I also think that the language needs to change - I find it offensive when people use words like ‘tolerant’ in the context of being inclusive. I don't think that people should be ‘tolerated’, they should be embraced, and celebrated.'
Thankfully, the Delhi-born UK based fashion designer is thankfully not alone in his thinking. So much so that this month Instagram has launched the hashtag #runwayforall, a photo-campaign that aims to showcase some of the most diverse models in the industry.
We caught up with Eva Chen, head of fashion at Instagram, to find out more about it...
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You've just launched #RunwayForAll. What exactly is it?
It's an initiative that Instagram began several months ago with the goal of spotlighting the diversity that exists on the runway and the diversity that should exist on the runway outside of ‘beauty norms.’ So we have highlighted community members who have been blazing their own path through Instagram and using Instagram to talk about the message of how they are living their lives and questioning the standard of what is beautfiul.
So is the Instagram community challenging the fashion world to be more diverse?
People can now find their own version of beauty using instagram 365 days a year. Instagram has a more global perspective so nowadays you can get inspired by so many different types of bodies, skin colours and nationailites. And if you think about the diversity of bloggers out there, from Asian to African American, there are amazing people from all around the world blogging. The most recent Ashish show had an Indian theme, I read somewhere that the theme was a Bollywood Bloodbath. It was lush and gorgeous - and to put Indian culture so prominently in the spotlight at such a key show was fantastic. Diversity shouldn’t be the exception it should be the norm.
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Why do you think Instagram works so well at highlighting diversity?
There are 500 million people around the world using Instagram so it really is a global platform. There’s someone on Instagram from almost every single country around the world, whether they’re chronicling their fashion life or their day-to-day life. Because it is such a global platform, it has changed the expectations of what fashion should be and can be. And I do think Instagram has changed the expecations of what is considered beautiful and if you think about the plus size bloggers who are spotlighting curvy fashion, that is incredibly important as-well.
Is the platform giving people power and more control over what they see?
On Instagram you can find people that resonate with you and your own role models. For me, and it might be cliché to say, but I love Leandra Medine’s style. She's so unique and so specific but she’s such an open book. She talks about everything from clothes to fertility and trying to have a baby. She covers the whole gambit, so she for me is a style role model in a way, it’s a style of her own. It’s great to see how Instagram can empower a whole generation of women and create content and be their own fashion role models.
What makes a successful profile?
I think the strongest personalites on Instagram do a mix of many things. Everyone is multifaceted and for me I try to use instagram to show my different interests. That's one of the resaons why Instagram Stories is so great and I think it's great to see how it's being embraced. So you might have your main profile super curated, like just black and white images of something and it all looks very polished, but then you can use Insta Stories to show a different side of you.
Take the blogger Aimee Song, her profile is so beautifully curated, the pictures are so specific, like even down to the lighting but then when you look at her Stories she’s goofy and silly and making jokes with her sister and her mum. And it’s the same for the fashion blogger Chiara Ferragni, her pictures have a very certain metric and a certain style and look but if you follow her on her Stories you see a very different side to her. It's the same for designers. Take Alessandro from Gucci, his Instagram feed is pretty great but then look at his stories and it's so random and wonderful. It’s jumpy and all over the place in the best way possible.
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So is there a move towards the less perfect shots on Instagram?
I think as a community Stories are crucial and people like seeing all the different sides of someone. Like a young actress who likes to cook might post the finished product on her profile but use stories to show all the ingredients and step by step process to get to the finished dish. The same goes for fashion shoots and the makeup looks. So people can use it to show a different to them.
The great thing about Stories is you can just tap to fast forward or pause. It’s great to see how models and designers use it. They’ve really been embracing it and showing the more raw side of fashion week. You get a sense of the real energy rather than just a perfect shot.
Is the trend for runway diversity from Instagram also effecting campaign imagery too?
Historically from what you see on the runway it always effects the campaigns too. I do think as more designers get inspired by Instagram, they expose what they see on Instagram. So it's a cycle of inspiration that leads to the runway which leads to advertising which leads to a mainstream motion of beautiful diverse faces, which leads to more young men and women feeling empowered by what beauty can be. So it's a wonderful cycle we hope stems from Instagram.
On the front row at Burberry Adwoa Aboah sat next to Cara Delevingne who was next to the Korean popstar Kris Wu. It was amazing to see that line up and that juxtaposition of what is considered attractive. And then all of them are so powerful on Instagram too and seeing them all chatting together and taking photos together was something very empowering to see.
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Do you actively alert designers to people on Instagram or introduce them?
We do features on @Instagram on people we find inspiring in the community, but we take a pretty passive role, we don’t need to suggest people to the houses because every designer is on Instagram. Nearly every designer I have spoken to has confessed to entering that Instagram blackhole at 10pm, where it's like 'I’m just going to check Insta before I go to sleep' and then literally three hours later you’re like 'how have I ended up on this Japanese crochet artist Instagram profile?'
Even Jack Mccollough and Lazaro Hernandez from Proenza Schouler said on a panel recently that they are constatntly on Instagram. They both have private accounts in additon to the official Proenza Schouler account. They are constantly screengrabbing things and they have their phones set up to a printer so they will print out the profiles that inspire them. And Alessandro from Gucci who has worked with @UnskilledWorker, found her through Instagram. The same goes for Dries Van Noten who asked Gill Button (@ButtonFruit) to handpaint the invitations to his last show. Plus Viktor & Rolf have worked with the copywriter turned artist Isabel Martinez (@isabelitavirtual). So designers are all guilty of that Instagram blackhole but within it they are using it to find original faces and original voices.