THE SHOW WENT ON AT MILAN FASHION WEEK WITH DIVERSITY AND BODY POSITIVITY REFRESHINGLY FRONT AND CENTER

Jill Kortleve and Precious Lee, two plus-sized models, walking for Etro and Versace, respectively. Courtesy of @jilla.tequila and @preciousleexoxo on Instagram.

Against the odds of a global pandemic, Milan Fashion Week went predominantly as planned. Italy, one of the biggest initial hotspots for the COVID-19 virus earlier this year, the first European country to impose a lockdown and at one point the country with the most coronavirus-related deaths, certainly demonstrated its ability to recover better than the US with Milan Fashion Week’s strict guidelines and precautions.

22 of the events’ 64 showings were done in person, including those of mainstays Fendi, Dolce&Gabbana, Ferragamo and Armani. Despite Italy’s recovery, the virus still continues to resurge in Europe, forcing Milan to initiate many precautions for the sake of an in-person show. To the chagrin of many a fashion and beauty influencer without an invite this year, capacity was significantly reduced at all shows. This was less of an issue than it could have been due to Europe’s travel ban on countries like China, the United States and South Korea, but nevertheless major guidelines like outdoor venues and socially distanced seating were implemented. Additionally, all those in physical attendance were required to wear face masks at all times, as well as use hand sanitizer from multiple stations and pass through thermal scanners.

While we can probably all agree that the absence of an over-saturation of influencer selfies in front of blank-faced models was a welcome change to proceedings, many houses chose to not show physical shows regardless. Instead, the majority of labels, 42 to be exact, decided to show collections virtually. Several brands took the opportunity to flex their creativity, approaching their digital collections in remarkably unique ways. Luxury brand Moschino went particularly viral for presenting their collection entirely in miniature, opting to send out Jim Henson’s Creature Shop puppets in scale models of the collection’s looks among a crowd of fashion superstar marionettes. Marni also garnered buzz for digitally presenting their “Marnifesto” collection around the world on the streets of major cities like Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo and London.

So Milan fashion week was hardly the “fiasco” a certain French newspaper deemed it to be before it even began. In response to a Vogue reporter Luke Leitch’s question about how fashion week had worked or not worked out, Camera Della Moda President Carlo Capasa said:

“We have to face the situation. Before the week there was a thought that we would not be able to hold any physical shows, but in the end there were not so many as usual, but a good number. And even if as you say there were sadly not so many journalists and not so many buyers as usual, a big positive was that at no point have I heard of anyone feeling insecure, or that the health factor was not the top priority.”

Then there are the shows themselves, which were determined not to be overshadowed by the format. While some are of a mind that this year presented an opportunity to change up the formula that many presentations missed, our focus is on the positives. Most notably, there was a refreshing boost in model and designer diversity.

Versace’s presentation got good press for including three plus-sized models showing off their collection, Jill Kortleve, Alva Claire and Precious Lee. The bright and bold prints all three models donned were intended to lift spirits under lockdown, according to Donatella Versace. Both Etro and Fendi both included model Ashley Graham, who less than a year ago gave birth; she even shared BTS footage of her pumping between shows.

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Fashion’s longstanding diversity problem, while obviously not in any position to call itself rectified, did make some strides this year. The September calendar included an official Black Lives Matter event, while Gucci and Prada last year made public pledges to combat the systemic racism within the fashion world and their own brands. Speaking on diversity in fashion, Veronica Etro stated that “embracing diversity has always been part of the Etro mind-set, with inclusivity being one of the key brand values.”

In the wake of the onslaught of support for worldwide racial justice movements, Italy’s Camera della Moda digitally presented the much-coveted “We Are Made in Italy” project, which set out to highlight five Italian BIPOC designers, known as the “Fab Five Bridge Builders.” The designers were directly mentored by heavy hitters Stella Jean and Edward Buchanan. Additionally, South African designer Sindiso Khmalo made her fashion week debut with entire collection inspired by Harriet Tubman. The collection was presented in the form of a fashion film, and was entitled “Minty” after Tubman’s childhood nickname. The brand also worked directly with the organization Embrace Dignity, which strives to break the stigma of sex work and employ previous sex industry workers. Khmalo hired workers through the program to do crochet and embroidery work. While not part of fashion week, Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty show also highlighted models and and dancers of many sizes and races, including the often overlooked plus-sized male models.

There is still work to do of course, not the least of which involving fast fashion and its supply chain. Let this only be the start to highlighting even more designers and models of different colors and sizes. Is high fashion’s diversity problem solved? No, but a good start it assuredly was.

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