Monday, November 05, 2007

Fashion Globalization

Sometimes it's easy to forget that at the end of the day, fashion is a business just like any other. To continue to grow and thrive, the fashion industry must adopt to societal changes, whether it's understanding and utilizing the online marketplace, or shifting the focus of individual brands from couture to handbags and accessories to meet the needs of a luxury-hungry middle class. But in certain ways the industry has stubbornly fought or ignored change. Take, for instance, the lack of racial and ethnic diversity among fashion editors, critics, designers and more obviously, models. While fashion is being democratized by the TopShops and H&M's of the world, there's a strong pull in the opposite direction to keep fashion elite and exclusive.

Designers (or more specifically, their parent companies) have recognized that it's not only women and men in U.S. and European fashion capitals who have the purchasing power to buy high-end fashions, and in the last 10 years we've seen an expansion of designer stores across the globe. But allowing people to enter the confined fashion world as consumers (or, more often in the case of Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, as underpaid and overworked producers) is a far cry from truly accepting them and encouraging them to participate in the industry.

As of now, the fashion industry has largely succeeded by selling an image of upper class, white American and European beauty to shoppers around the globe. For the most part, people have accepted this ideal (see Gemma Ward on the cover of Vogue India for recent proof). But my guess is that as certain nations and populations, like India, China and the UAE, continue to gain economic power, high-powered consumers are going to demand more inclusion in the fashion world, and will create their own alternatives to this hegemony by launching new magazines, organizing their own fashion weeks, etc. They're going to want to see people who look like them, who reflect and understand their own culture.

I started thinking about this after reading that Valentino announced that he was re-showing his Spring 2008 collection in Abu Dhabi. I don't know for certain whether this is the first major fashion designer to re-stage a show in the Middle East, but it's definitely not a regular event. But this announcement made me really wonder why it shouldn't be- after all, Abu Dhabi is one of the richest cities in the world. Yet, aside from hosting boutiques by many top fashion houses, it's almost totally ignored by the fashion community. It'll be interesting to see whether Valentino uses the same models as before, or if he includes some Middle Eastern women on the catwalk.

I think there's hope that the fashion industry will begin to diversify, as they can only ignore the untapped wealth outside of the U.S. and Europe for so long. Racism and cultural elitism are undeniably linked to the history of fashion, but at the end of the day, a brand is still a business, and I think they'll be forced to change their elitist practices if they want to survive in an increasingly competitive industry.


Elizabeth said...

Elyse Sewell (1st cycle of ANTM contestant) described on her LiveJournal a fashion week re-show she worked in Hong Kong as being a deliberate, exact replication of the original show, down to knock-off models who looked like the original show's models. Part of the idea behind a re-show seems to be giving people a live re-enactment of the big fashion week presentation, so I'd say it's unlikely Middle Eastern models would be cast.

lisa said...

You're right in saying that the fashion industry has been dominated by an Eurocentric, elitist top tier that hasn't diversified to include other ethnicities or social classes. However, as a fashion consumer who is considered an "ethnic minority" in North America (I'm Chinese), truthfully I'm ambivalent about seeing more Asian faces in magazines and on runways.

One part of me applauds these sentiments; another part of me knows that even as we push for more diversity in the Western world, Chinese media still has a very Westernized ideal for feminine beauty. The same goes for Latin America; when I was in Mexico, all of the actors and models looked white, not mixed or indigenous. And yet another part of me neglects these arguments about more diverse racial representation among fashion's faces because in the end, it's the clothes I'm most focused on.

Ophélie said...

It's very difficult for me to imagine a fashion industry that can include models from different nationalities, while concealing the use of workers from their models' countries in unethical working conditions. When you think about it, what kind of message does it send for Old Navy to use chinese models?

Anonymous said...

Intresting thing I discovered - I have been travelling recently to Kuwait for work and was amazed and impressed to find that my Kuwaiti client's dish dash (white robes) were actually made by Armani. It seems many of these types of items are made by high end european designers. Most of the Shops including Topshop and Zara had also geared their product selection to the local market and in some (fewer though) the lifestyle graphics for the season (photos of models with clothes in store adverts) were actually representative of the local market - yes true the fairer portion of the market but they were definitely non euro faces but to be realistic their is a huge economic gap between the fairer Kuwaitis and their darker toned import laborers.

Two Dishes said...

Taiwan and Japan have a huge amount of local look and local magazines and then next to them, when people want them, there are a bunch of Western fashion mags. The local fashion in Japan and haircuts, were way different in the late 90s when I was there. Those haircuts seemed to start appearing here in NY in 2005

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