Walking the Walk: Body Diversity on Recent Runways

The Ready-To-Wear iteration of New York Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2019 brought with it much of what we’d expect from the fashion world — glitz and glam and a few copycats on traditionally thin, angular models. What stood out in the sea of sameness? Body diversity on the Christian Siriano and Chromat runways. Features writer Emily Bacal dives deeper into the significance of this standout trend.

We at ROCKET have been wishing we were a little closer to the other Williamsburg this month, partaking in New York Fashion Week RTW FW19. Among the decidedly eclectic collections, two stood out from the rest of the pack for one distinct reason: representation of body diversity.

The collections in question were Chromat and Christian Siriano. The former presented an ebullient neon-hewed assortment of swimsuits, the latter a chromed-out interpretation of what occasionwear will look like for a future, presumably intergalactic society set. These collections did not merely present diverse bodies, but celebrated them. In the case of Chromat, the impact of body diversity in a showing of swimwear, a type of garment traditionally viewed as being suitable for specific body types (an idea which is reinforced by a slew of ‘bikini-body’ workout plans) is not to be underscored. Female presenting models of color, plus-sized and disabled models, and models with non-traditional musculature sashayed proudly and joyfully in Chromat’s vibrant pieces, reenergizing of swimwear. In commenting on the collection, Janelle Okwodu of Vogue.com remarked that “Few designers celebrate the body in the way [Chromat’s creative director Becca] McCharen-Tran does, letting her oil-slicked models strut down the runway displaying every curve as they’re cheered on. Her shows and their uplifting message of body pride have been instrumental in evolving the conversation around size within fashion, all of which makes you want more.”  

“In the years since his television debut he hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for outfitting women of all shapes, sizes, and walks of life in decadent fashion, but he has refined his aesthetic considerably.” – Janelle Okwodu, Vogue.com

Making diversity visible in areas which historically and symbolically confer value and respect is important in a way which should not be underemphasized. Representation leads to normalization, normalization to demystification, and, somewhere down the road, ideally, to respect. For fashion to truly diversify, we need models of every shape, size, skin tone and ability sent down runways. The ‘who’ in design is becoming just as important as the ‘what.’ Instead of merely lauding designers who do represent body diversity, we need to be holding accountable those who make the decision not to, because it is most certainly a choice. Comments about inclusivity should not only be featured in reviews of collections which do showcase diversity — critics should more often call out the rectitude of the majority of designers to integrate body diversity. This demand for change is an important step towards convincing them that they should want and need to respond to stay relevant.

There is something to be said for the fact that both Christian Siriano and Chromat were two of the most fun shows of NYFW. There is something fantastical, joyful even, about acceptance, diversity and inclusivity shining forth from such a traditionally exclusionary space. These collections looked forward, both in design and model casting, while traditional collections were shown on traditional models. Thus, we see a scrap of the depth of permeation ethos has in the work. It structures approach and execution, and is rendered visible as the glorious silver concoction Ashley Graham wore in the Siriano finale or the luminous neon sheer dress-swimsuit combo with matching prosthetic leg Mama Cax wore down the Chromat runway.

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