Designing Diversity

This Globe Style Advisor column comes from New York Fashion Week for the Fall 2017 season – my final season live sketching. Chromat consistently produce the best show in New York – awesome models, incredible music. I always felt welcome to sketch at their shows, the whole team understands and encourages artists.

What does diversity mean in fashion? This complex issue is too fundamental to trivialize as a trend. Attempts to address it were especially noticeable in the politicized atmosphere of the Fall 2017 collections presented in New York this February. While significant gains have been made in racial and transgender diversity with estimates around 30 per cent representation, size diversity lags considerably behind.

This is because body diversity is not simply a casting issue, it’s a design challenge. If designers are only considering diversity in terms of the fashion show, it’s too late. Dressing plus sized models in wrap dresses or caftans merely broadcasts that a designer considers flattering their models’ figures an afterthought. Needless to say, that’s not a good look.

Traditionally in Ready-to-Wear, the designer would take a garment and make it available in a variety of sizes – from XS to XL – so in theory the same style could be available to everyone. This is certainly equal treatment, however it is not fair treatment since what flatters the tall and thin does not flatter the short and round (or vice versa). In order to enhance a variety of figures, designers must treat differences, well, differently.

One designer who approaches diversity as a practice and not just a headline-making statement is Becca McCharen of Chromat. She has a background in architecture, where designers are trained to respond to the building site on a case by case basis. As a queer designer she considers people individually and not by assumed roles. Chromat’s intelligent designs enhance a variety of figures across the gender spectrum… and also hyper-feminine goddesses like Beyonce and Nicki Minaj.

Compared to the rigid monotony of most runway shows, the vibe at a Chromat presentation is bouyant. Each unique model is dressed to look incredibly hot, their personalities radiant, showing how embracing diversity throughout the design process makes fashion exciting and fun – for everyone.