Gemma, Kendall, Tokenism, and the Future of Runway Casting

September 23, 2014 • Fashion

Welcome back, Gemma. Fashion fans around the world fell into a frenzy of excitement when Australian legend Gemma Ward opened Prada’s Spring 2015 show last Thursday. This was her return to the runway after a 13-season absence – a full six years since she left the business. Now she has returned, if only for this one moment. Her agency, IMG, hinted that she is here to stay. Who knows what that really means, though. After six years, physical maturity, and the birth of her daughter, Gemma is no longer the wunderkind teen model who dominated every facet of the industry and ushered in a mid-2000s era of baby doll faces from around the globe. Time will tell where she takes her career. Until then, I am looking toward a new generation of exciting faces who are holding down coveted spots on the runway and in major magazines.

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Prada casting coup aside (a round of applause for Lara Stone’s runway return as well), this season has been an interesting one in terms of casting overall. Kendall Jenner has established herself as a credible runway model, walking in shows ranging from Diane von Furstenberg to Bottega Veneta to Dolce & Gabbana.

pucciMariacarla closing Pucci S/S 2015 (via Style.com)

Mariacarla Boscono closed no less than four Milanese runway shows, including Versace. I find her ubiquity as a bastion of Italian glamour hilarious, even though she is one of my all-time favorite models. (Also, why are there so few Italian models? Very weird.)

issa3Issa Lish by Steven Meisel, Vogue Italia April 2014. (via Vogue.it)

Issa Lish, my favorite girl of the season so far, also dominated covetable blue chip shows in Milan. Walking for Prada, Marni, Bottega Veneta, Pucci, Dolce, and closing Fausto Puglisi, Lish is seemingly a far cry from models like Jenner and Boscono. Japanese models are rare, and Mexican models even more so. (Issa is half Japanese and half Mexican.) I was at first surprised to see how well she embodied so many Italian houses’ ideals, though her Vogue Italia cover from this April echoes a dynamic energy that casting directors love – a magnetism not unlike those found in Kendall and Mariacarla. Some of my other favorite girls so far this season include Alexandra Elizabeth Ljadov, Kouka Webb, Dylan Xue, Jing Wen, Aya Jones N’Guessan, Rianne van Rompaey, and Willy Morsch.

Calvin Klein, Ready to Wear Spring Summer 2015 Collection in New YorkTami Williams at Calvin Klein S/S 2015 (via Nowfashion.com)

Most importantly, tokenism is still alive and well, especially in castings by Maida & Rami, whose clients include Calvin Klein, Jil Sander, and Raf Simons’ Dior. A Calvin Klein exclusive is important, and an opening and closing slot is even more coveted. However, it is increasingly hard to ignore the blatantly racist choices made without accountability or progressive thought. Tami Williams, a 16-year-old newcomer, was the only black model cast in the Spring 2015 show. So Ra Choi was also the first Asian model to walk a Calvin Klein mainline show in at least five years, if not more. (I stopped counting after going back at least 10 seasons.) This season was a far cry from the Spring 2014 show casting, with five black models.This unprecedented number of black girls only came after a full year (Spring 2012 and Fall 2012) without any models of color on the CK runway. Maida & Rami have not come close since.

This is unacceptable. Who is making these decisions? Pointing fingers in a vicious cycle of blame will never solve anything. In an industry unwilling to look in the mirror and see the sociocultural impact of its choices, white supremacy and casual racism rear their ugly heads first and foremost in runway and campaign casting. Ashish cast an all-black show this season with amazing and underutilized black faces like Betty Adewole and Adesuwa Aighewi. Is this any better than designers like Calvin Klein who use one token black model, or none at all?

bettyBetty Adewole at Ashish S/S 2015. (via Stylebistro.com)

I see the future of casting in shows like Telfar, Eckhaus Latta, and Hood by Air. Many of my friends have walked for these brands this season, including my best friend Hari Nef, a trans actress (and newfound runway model). HBA shows its brilliance equally in its clothes and in its casting. As Shayne Oliver pushes the brand forward, men, women, and transgender individuals converge in a space that investigates gender, race, and established fashion codes. Fashion is an overwhelmingly white arena, and brands like Hood by Air make people – including myself – think deeply about what it means to claim space fearlessly. With his recent LVMH prize winnings, Oliver has proven himself as an industry leader who has reflected his sartorial message in his casting. This is what I want to see in the future, because it is thoughtful and necessary.

Hood By Air Ready to Wear Spring Summer 2015 in New YorkHari Nef at Hood By Air S/S 2015 (via Nowfashion.com)

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