… Or not so revolutionary?


There has been a lot of discussion about Rick Owen’s step-dancing runway show at Paris Fashion Week, and I particularly like Threadbared‘s take on it, even though they disagree with my last post (which was essentially a long-winded ‘Hurrah!’).

Threadbared were not so impressed with Owen’s show for a number of reasons, and expanded their argument to include the Diversity Coalition (founded by black models Naomi Campbell, Bethann Hardison and Chanel Iman) and their open letter to the fashion industry. Their piece is well worth reading in full, but here are some of the main points they raised:

  • Headline-grabbing shows like Owens’ still present black people as a spectacle
  • The ‘fierce’ and ‘curvy’ step dance team ain’t breaking any stereotypes
  • All the credit for the show goes to the white designer, not the dancers
  • The power relations and hierarchies of race therefore remain unchanged
  • Within these structures, race is still categorised in ridiculous ways, so that the Diversity Coalition fail to consider Asian models as black, although they aren’t white either. Threadbared call out the idea of Asian models as ‘honorary whites’ when they get pretty much the same number of castings as black models.

This is all true. Particularly the power structure in which a white designer gets credit for his ‘diversity’ when he uses black people as an exotic spectacle. But I’m not sure that takes all value away from Owens’ show. It might not be real diversity, but it does get people talking about it, and where that should eventually end up is with runways sprinkled evenly with models of various colours, and we can go back to talking about their weight (!).

What I really wonder is whether there is an alternative way of achieving this than shock tactics. OK, legislation would be a good start, but for that we need lots of people making noise about it… Which they have started doing.

Threadbared are absolutely right. It’s not good enough. Yet.

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