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Lineisy Montero with natural hair at Prada AW15 – Montero was one of several black models who brought natural hair back to the runway this seasonPhotography Virginia Arcaro

Why 2015 is the year fashion’s casting is changing

This year has seen disabled models walk at NYFW, RiRi become Dior's first black campaign girl and Andreja Pejić return to the runway – and we're only three months in

2015 has, so far, been a big year in fashion. We’ve been witness to a full-frontal fashion statement thanks to Rick Owens’ trouserless models, seen Galliano’s triumphant return to the industry at Margiela, and been treated to Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson’s reprisal of their iconic Zoolander roles at the end of the Paris catwalk. But today, as we officially put the first quarter of the year behind us, there’s one theme that has risen from of the haze of 2015’s Instagram moments to dominate the past three months of fashion – casting. “Through the internet people all over the world are getting more acquainted with all types of people, faces and identities and starting to realise how insular fashion is,” explained Nafisa Kaptownwala, founder of outsider modeling agency Lorde Inc to Dazed last week, as she reflected on why fashion shows remain dominated by white models and whether the world is prepared for her collective’s radical vision of streetcast diversity. If the last few months are anything to go by – it’s more than ready.

Lorde Inc is just a piece of the puzzle that shows we’re undergoing a tide change in casting, and a questioning of what exactly makes a model that goes deeper than the finger-pointing discussions over size zero. The conversation doesn’t only encompass height and weight, but issues including race, disability and gender identity. So where did it all begin? Arguably at the end of last year, when size 14 Dazed model Myla Dalbesio appeared in an underwear advert for Calvin Klein (the brand infamously credited with popularising the waif look of the 1990s with Kate Moss) inciting a debate around what exactly constituted ‘plus-size’. Although no distinction was made by the brand about her size to separate her from other models in the images (including runway regulars Jourdan Dunn and Ji Hye Park), comments from the press categorising her as plus sparked outrage, with Dalbesio herself admitting that the structure of sizes in fashion is, frankly “fucked up”. 

In February, the inclusion of plus-size model Robyn Lawley in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue kickstarted the debates once more. “Why are we so focused on having the girl fit the clothes rather than the clothes fit the girls?" she questioned. “Designers need to not be so fearful of using a few models that are a different size on the catwalk.” Last month, the #DropThePlus movement, spurred into action by Australian model Stefania Ferrario, began calling on the industry to use “models of ALL shapes, sizes and ethnicities, and drop the misleading labels,” arguing that they are harmful for young girls. “I'm NOT proud to be called 'plus', but I AM proud to be called a 'model', that is my profession!" said Ferrario. “I am a woman FULL STOP!” A Dazed poll demonstrated that readers were overwhelmingly in favour of losing the label.

The AW15 shows in February and March saw a wave of game-changing casting decisions and fashion week firsts. In London, model Andreja Pejić made her runway return, having taken time off to undergo gender reassignment surgery, while New York saw designers send an unprecedented number of gender non-conforming and transgender models down the runway. But rather than being tokenistic, it was about forging new communities within an industry that’s largely excluded these people. “Trans people have been central to New York’s art and fashion scene for nearly as long as those ‘scenes’ have existed as we know them,” actress and model Hari Nef told us. “It’s about time that this reality was represented on the city’s runways.” They were certainly represented at Chromat, a show inspired by the strength of trans women that featured Gisele Xtravaganza taking to the runway in a corset complete with laser nipples like a fabulous fembot. “At some shows, I look and it’s all pale, blonde, white women and I mean, that’s not representative of our culture today” Gilleon Smith, the casting director behind the show, told Dazed.

Elsewhere at NYFW, American Horror Story actress Jamie Brewer made history as the first model with Down Syndrome to walk the runway, while Brit Jack Eyers became the first male amputee. Although the city’s runways remain shockingly almost 80% white, there were also some refreshing statements for diversity – Kanye West debuted his collaborative collection with adidas on a group of streetcast models that, despite the fact that they stood in militant lines, rebelled against homogeneity – varying in height, weight, body type and race (a fact that, sadly, almost went unnoticed in the furore surrounding the show). Considering his outspoken criticism of the industry’s white-washed casting (“What the fuck, you put just one black girl in to make sure you’ve ticked a box?” he said in Dazed last year) it was no surprise that Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing also chose to send a troupe of models of colour down his runway in Paris. 

“Trans people have been central to New York’s art and fashion scene for nearly as long as those ‘scenes’ have existed as we know them. It’s about time that this reality was represented on the city’s runways.” – Hari Nef

In a season of extreme beauty transformations, one of the most powerful looks turned away from the OTT to go back to basics, as black models with natural afro hair featured on the runways at Céline, Prada, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton and more. But why do we not see this style more often? In a recent Dazed interview, legendary founder of the London agency Premier Carole White discussed some unexpected obstacles that stand in the way of black models attempting to build their careers – such as make-up artists and photographers not knowing how to work with their skin. It seems the same is true for hair – speaking to Style.com, Diversity Coalition founder Bethann Hardison explained that black models began using extensions after finding their natural hair damaged “because the hairstylists didn’t have the training to understand black hair...Back then, if they couldn’t figure out how to style a girl’s hair properly, it was the model who was considered difficult, not the hairstylist.” While we’ll have to see how the rest of 2015 pans out to discover whether this industry double standard is changing for good, natural hair has won some fans in high places – with Miuccia Prada herself reportedly so impressed by model Lineisy Montero’s look that she wanted to keep her exactly as she was.

As for campaigns, Dazed 100 star and Vitiligo spokesperson Winnie Harlow stole the show in Diesel’s Nick Knight lensed SS15 campaign when it was revealed in February, after creative director Nicola Formichetti spotted the “inspiring” model on Instagram. Last month Rihanna made headlines after she was announced as the first black spokesperson for Dior in the house’s almost 70 year history (“It is such a big deal for me, for my culture” she commented) and just last week Soo Joo Park became the first Asian-American ambassador for L’Oréal, another win for more models of colour in mainstream fashion and beauty imagery. It’s proof that the power players of the industry are opening up their visions to better represent the diversity of society. This was also reflected on the catwalks – in a show that marked a year since his debut at Louis Vuitton, Nicolas Ghesquière explored new potentialities for the historic house through his casting choices – including a candyfloss haired Fernanda Hin Lin Ly and androgynous ‘accidental model’ Tamy Glauser, complete with her trademark shaved head.

While it’s true that there’s still a long way to go – NYFW was only “a snowflake on the tip of an iceberg” according to Hari Nef – 2015 seems to be the year where fashion represents a changing consciousness when it comes to casting, and finally reflects the world we live in. The time has come, and Lorde Inc’s Kaptownwala is right – if people making the casting decisions in fashion “aren’t feeling pressure to change up their game, they’re sleeping.” We’re looking forward to what the next nine months has to offer.