Reflection: ProjectFEM’s Feminist Fashion Catwalk and Exhibition

High on the buzz of the debut ProjectFEM fashion event, Founder Holly Campbell reflects on the day, thanks all involved and offers food for thought for the next epic event…

The event was truly a success. After months of planning and exasperating hard work Danielle, Annie, Georgie and I managed to pull together our first event working late nights and weekends around our full time jobs. We emailed until our fingers were numb, persistently pitched for funding and flyered until we ran out of places to go; it all paid off on the day and we seamlessly improvised through unexpected challenges.

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The Team: Annie (Media), Holly (Director), Georgie (Stylist), Danielle (Event Manager at Cargo)

We welcomed guests including the Women’s Equality Party’s Sophie Walker and Catherine Meyer, plus size model Jada Sezer, activist model Rain Dove and America’s Next Top Model’s first gay contestant Cory Wade. All of whom were incredibly passionate about the cause and recognised the necessity of opening a conversation about the detrimental impacts of fashion around gender, beauty, diversity and representation. Sophie Walker gave a captivating speech about WEP’s #NoSizeFitsAll body image campaign, in which a fundamental component is to pressure London mayer Sadiq Khan into withdrawing funding from London Fashion Week for shows that do not cast at least one model of size 12 or above. Our audience were reassuringly engaged and opened up further important conversations around body image and fashion. Take action here.

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Sophie Walker, Leader of the Women’s Equality Party, speaking on 09.09.16

Then the show began! Our models were beaming with confidence and excitement and it showed. Designers included Gudrun & Gudrun, a sustainable knitwear brand and Neon Moon a feminist lingerie brand. Each look made a statement through visual culture in terms of gender and beauty.

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VIPs at the ProjectFEM event, 09.09.16

Diversity and representation are our fundamental aims and integral to our values and mission. We were successful in achieving racial diversity amongst our cast of models and we had a range of genders and ages. However, we recognise that we did not capture a cast as representative as we had hoped. We had two recruited plus-sized models and a model with physical disabilities, but at the last  minute they pulled out which was out of our control. This meant that we did not manage to represent physical disability in the show, whilst invisible disabilities were present amongst our cast.

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Catwalk Finale, 09.09.16

Upon reflection, as much as we advertised through social media, flyered and put out casting calls with a diverse modelling agencies, we struggled to capture the amount of transgender, age and ability diverse models as we wanted. We were inundated with applications from models from ranging ethnic background but found it a real task to reach those with broader ranging underrepresented qualities. Starting the project we thought individuals from these groups would eager get involved. Upon reflection, this challenge shows that if there is no consistent mainstream space for these people then how can there exist an aspiring population of models ready to jump at our adverts? We advertised with a diverse modelling agency but that brought us only young, slim and ethnically diverse models. Diversity is more than that.

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Models from the ProjectFEM Catwalk, 09.09.16

This exemplifies the need for us to continue our work in advocating true human representation within fashion. To achieve that we need to provide opportunities, hope and change for human beings who are completely unrepresented by the fashion industry. We need to give them the space to become models in the first place, to pressure fashion week organisers, designers and advertising agencies to allow equal space for these models. We cannot simply widen the goal posts of idealised beauty by having racial and size diversity, we need to reinvent those ideals from a deeper grassroots level with the radical value that we are all beautiful, all races, abilities, genders, sizes and ages included.

We cannot merely broaden the goal posts of what or who is considered idealised beauty, we need to revolutionise what we are told beauty is. If people outside the stereotypical ideal are not represented then they are unlikely to aspire to become models. We must provide that empowerment and a platform for them to do so. We have learnt a tremendous amount from hosting our first event and our values, drive and integrity has never been stronger!

Feedback from models following the event:

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Where did the diversity go? London Fashion Week AW 16

On the closing of London Fashion Week 2016 and after New York Fashion Week being considered the most diverse in recent history (pictured below), we expected to see some great statements by designers on this side of the pond.

So, we watched all of the shows through a feminist critical lens, considering the diversity and representation of models in terms of ethnicity, body size, age, dis/ability, and gender. In terms of visual culture, we viewed the designs of garments critically to interpret any challenges of social constructions or socio-political messages.

What we found…

Representative body size – Absent

Representative age – Absent

Disability – Absent

Ethnicity – Almost absent

In terms of ethnicity, we can celebrate that almost half (14/32) of the models selected for the Bora Aksu show were non-white. Although this comes after a backlash against the lack of ethnic diversity in his SS16 show where the models were overwhelmingly white compared to the amount of selected non-white models.

In comparison to this, the majority of designers showcasing this week greatly lacked a genuine representation of ethnic diversity amongst their selection of models. Of 23 models, designer 1205 cast 2 Asian and 21 white models. Rejina Pyo and Pringle of Scotland seemed to tokenise models of colour, with Rejina Pyo selecting 2 Asian and 1 black model and Pringle selecting 2 black models, with all other models cast being white. This pattern trended throughout the majority of the designers’ castings, with Aksu being the only designer to demonstrate a large proportion of ethnically diverse models.

In terms of visual culture and garment design, concepts of gender featured strongly. Christopher Raeburn and Paul Smith featured more stereotypically masculine designs for their womenswear collections. Gender fluidity had a distinct presence within the Phoebe English and Claire Barrow collections, where genderless garments were modelled on males and females.

Claire Barrow was also the only designer to feature the only normal/plus sized model on an LFW catwalk, and the only designer to make explicit statements about gender and gender fluidity.

We also noted that flat shoes continued to trend (thank god, we can still walk throughout Autumn/Winter 16) and the nipple was freed by Sibling, Barbara Casasola and Felder Felder.

Our round-up: LFW disappoints with an abysmal array of diversity. Whiteness, thinness and youth is trending…Again! There is still no space for disability, ethnic diversity and normal body size on London’s catwalks. Diversity seems to be a trend that simply cannot stay, and for now we will have to stick with New York Fashion Week. However, the statements made by designers such as Claire Barrow and Phoebe English leave us hopeful of the continued challenging of gender norms and stereotypes on catwalks for seasons to come.

Tell us what you think and leave a comment!

Written by Holly C