For A/W 18, a surprising selection of designers at London Fashion Week Men’s showed a propensity for diversity. The ethnically diverse casting was frequent. Male, female and transgender models walked in shows and we saw bodies both big and small. Art School and Rottingdean Bazaar’s menswear showed in all sizes. Rottingdean’s ‘WE DO BIG SIZES 2XL 3XL 4XL 5XL!!!!’ t-shirt was Instagrammed over and over, worn by designer Luke Brooks’s father.
The variety on show was joyful and inclusive, a celebration. But once womenswear came into town, it seemed that London’s models had shrunk back to size. A conversation that was largely had in the noughties about ‘size zero models’ and unhealthy attitudes towards skinny shapes, this issue seems largely ignored as of late. I wonder why London’s womenswear contingent, in particular, has fallen silent on the matter.
There’s no denying that London this season showed a range of ethnicities in its casting. The likes of ASAI, Charlotte Knowles, Supriya Lele, Essie Buckman’s FORTIE label, Ashley Williams and Ashish, in particular, should be lauded for their inclusivity. A Sai Ta and Supriya Lele, both showing under Lulu Kennedy’s Fashion East, explore their second-generation heritage in both their garments and their casting. Lele, born in India and raised in the Midlands, cast her show with predominantly Indian models. Lele’s designs often emulate the line and draping one would find in a sari or a salwar kameez and the ways these garments sit on the body ensure a forgiving feeling. Furthermore, discussing inclusivity and the repercussions of cultural appropriation backstage after the show, Lele expounded that although her designs draw on traditional Indian dress, in bringing her own hand to them, she ensures her customer should be anyone who finds her work appealing.
Fashion East newcomer Charlotte Knowles presented her explorative underwear as outerwear on an equally diverse range of faces. The craftsmanship involved in Knowles’s designs is exquisite, but the simple fact that she presents undergarments cannot help but highlight that size is a clear issue here. The models wore cycling shorts, caged bras and their thinness was unavoidable. As a big-booty-ed lady, I can’t help but bemoan the fact that these looks could never translate onto a larger body.
Gareth Pugh pioneers a powerful woman in his work and the shape of the women in this season’s show reflects this. His silhouettes traditionally denote a figure of force somewhere between masculine and feminine. Gareth’s A/W 18 women were slicked, oiled with hair back, hoods up and the only flesh on show took the form of toned arms. The fabrics - leopard print, pinstripe, leather and PVC - sculpted into angular, exaggerated shoulders, conflated retro and modern. Simultaneously, ideas of womanhood were obfuscated in Pugh’s A/W 18 show, mainly in the specificity of the shape Pugh sees as aspirational.
Molly Goddard is known for her signature shapes, fabrics that puff out from the body and re-configure a female shape. Much of Goddard’s work questions the way a garment is traditionally supposed to fit the body. Reams of tulle toe the line between ugly and pretty. This season, Goddard opened her show with a slinky crop top - it looked like when I used to cut the crotches out of tights and wear them as a pre-pubescent. Goddard explores a new take on pretty - but these were sexy. Edie Campbell in a tight, taut, tit-hugging top - sexy. But what if Edie had big bazoomas or a slice of tummy? Molly had tried her hand at sexy, but the lack of diversity in the casting indicated that her woman is only sexy if she’s naturally short on mammary glands. I would love to see that look under a healthily heaving rack. I want to see boobs happily hugged in Molly’s clothes, curves kissed by chiffon and curls of cotton.
Keeping models at sample size cannot help but ensure that archaic social norms about defining beauty are maintained. You cannot be a larger woman and be considered beautiful. As a city, London is a pioneer in terms of inclusivity and diversity. Therefore, it seems to make no sense that the variety of women’s bodies is once more being ignored. As gender fluidity permeates the world of design, are we in danger of losing the female form? Are women once more conceding their platform to men? Gender diversity does not have to be a call to pioneer androgyny. Fundamentally, it’s about representation and I couldn’t help but notice that female body diversity has been forgotten on London’s catwalks this season.