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Fashion Week: Diversity Rises

By Sasha Ganeles, Planner

Fashion Week has descended upon New York, bringing with it flocks of peacocks, head-turning models, and perhaps surprisingly, a new era of technology and social activism.

Perhaps because fashion has long been considered a shallow and vapid industry, it’s taking steps to regain favorability and relevance in society. A tumultuous political climate has put pressure on the industry to step out of its elite shadows and make its powerful and influential voice heard. And in an age where feedback from the public is vocal and omnipresent, the fashion industry has come under a lot of fire for issues like body shaming, appropriation, and inappropriate images.

This perfect storm has culminated in New York Fashion week. As Heidi Klum likes to remind us, in fashion, one week you’re in and the next you’re out. So what’s in -- and out -- at NYFW this year?

What’s in

Instagram judging.

200 million people — roughly one-third of the Instagram community — are connected to fashion accounts. The platform has been oversaturated with ‘perfect’ images, and what people want are the more ‘raw’ behind-the-scenes footage. Instagram stories has become a major medium to connect with users in a more casual and intimate way, like Gucci is doing to great success.

Brands getting in on Experiential marketing

Tech and brand integration at the event. As events such as SXSW and music festivals such as Coachella continue to rack in the money, exposure, and cool factor for any brand touching them, brands are recognizing the potential boon of Fashion Week’s extensive coverage and guests. Now, it’s getting experiential. Lexus has been part of NYFW in past years, but by providing key players with cars to travel around the city. This year, the brand takes a more engaging and experience based approach.

Gender fluidity on the runway

Fashion doesn’t limit itself to a binary of style, and now this fluidity has extended to gender. The past few years has seen more exposure of androgynous models from couture to Zara, but in 2017 the runways are more fluid than ever. As debates and policy swirl around gender identity, the fashion world is leading the charge in putting the issues front and center. AT NYFW, Ivy Park showcased different takes on femininity and strength. To coincide with NYFW, Logo, VH1, and MTV are teaming up to present the long-form digital video Made To Model: Trans Beauty In Fashion, which brings together pioneering transgender models and current icons -- today’s LGBTQ models -- for a one-of-a-kind photo shoot with Paper magazine creative director Drew Elliott.

What’s out

Standardized beauty

This season, the runways of Fashion Week served as a celebration of the fashion collective’s commitment to inclusion. Conventionalized ideas surrounding age, race and femininity were challenged, seeing a record number of plus-sized models and people of color on the catwalk. According to The Fashion Spot nearly 30% of the models cast for Fall Fashion ads were non-white; the highest number recorded since they began tracking data. Agism also flew right out of the window this season, with models over 50 being cast seven times more than they one season prior. The definition of fashion is being reset by brands like Valentino and Gloria Vanderbilt, highlighting strength and what’s on the inside as the core of beauty. Helmut Lang and Phillip Plein pushed the envelope even further, amplifying the diversity of Fashion Week with fresh faces representing the transgender community.

Fashion without meaning

Individual brands are reacting to the fact that consumers favor brands that stand for something. Many brands are using their exposure and reach to highlight important issues. But this trend has seen the most exposure and traction at Fashion Week, with more literal expressions taking place in the form of protest t-shirts. Political statement graced the runways, with hats, shirts, and bomber jackets declaring “We need leaders”, “Make America New York”, "We are all human beings”. These declarations have faced some backlash, as while they claim to support human rights, they are simultaneously ignoring the human rights issues (like sweatshops and environmental stressors) that their very industry is built on. Fashion has long been political -- from suffragettes wearing white as a symbol, to more subtle but powerful fashion statements.

PR buzzy shows

The most important part of NYFW should be, well, the fashion. But this season in particular has seen an overwhelming focus on the buzz factor of the shows and parties, diverting attention and focus from the fashion itself. Philipp Plein and Alexander Wang in particular tried to outdo one another with incredibly extravagant events. Each featured performances from top artists, famed dancers and over-the-top afterparties.

The need to garner the most social media buzz has pushed designers to make the shows flashy and compete for attention from influencers and followers. Just like everything else these days -- it's all about digital, even on the runway.