We are in the heady throws of London Fashion Week. In the last few seasons this has meant that each new day of the fashion calendar comes with a fresh debate surrounding diversity.
One relative newcomer to this discourse is Canadian born Londoner Nafisa Kaptownwala, the 26-year-old art history graduate who founded Lorde Inc. Models in 2014. Working with industry pioneers such as SHOWstudio, i-D and Dazed, she is fast becoming hailed as the agent who is literally changing the face of fashion.
In a wider context this is a year where we are seeing an effervescence of diversity in fashion campaigns, with the first black model in 13 years on the cover of British Vogue, Rihanna fronting a Dior campaign and Andreja Pejic a transgender model walking for the Giles Deacon AW'15 show. All unprecedented, these signify fundamental changes in the fashion landscape.
[A model is someone who is] "comfortable in front of the camera," says Nafisa in a recent i-D interview, fiercely resisting the established and restrictive culture of the physical ideal. We take a look at how her business goes whole-heartedly against the fashion grain, and how the diversity movement is transforming our perceptions of beauty.
Looking at Lorde Inc.'s website with it's soft colour palette and smiling faces, you could think that this is just another new agency finding it's way in the sea of established heavyweights. However, delving into Nafisa's media interviews and blog, it becomes clear that Lorde Inc. has an agenda over and above supplying pretty faces to the fashion industry. Her posts are a mix of sparky GIFS, invites and successful model placements which are reminiscent of an experimental fashion Zine; projecting a feisty and confident voice rather than the usual safe and investor friendly posts on competitor's sites. It is clear that the team at Lorde Inc. are infiltrating the industry with a resolutely independent attitude.They may be seen as a niche agency in the context of the bigger players such as Storm or Models 1, but with brands like Marc Jacobs using Instagram to cast campaigns; the demand for agents to supply diverse models such as those on Nafisa's books is steadily rising.
Fashion has always looked to the street for inspiration. Now, social media has opened the doors for the public to communicate with brands, and influence the decisions of the industry power players. The discontented public talk to agencies via Instagram or Twitter to exert opinions that could formerly be ignored. The most recent case being that of the Swedish model Agnes Hedengård who with a BMI of 17.5 was told by bookers that she was too 'big' to get work. Agnes received nearly four million views with her consequent YouTube campaign and gained confidence in the knowledge that many disagree with the industry standard for extremely slim models. Agencies are also using social media to appoint new talent. Gone are the days of the traditional 'new faces' interview, where aspiring models would be invited into the agency and be critiqued by measuring tape, their 'walk' and polaroid shots. These days a model can share headshots with the agency via social media, and the bookers as well as the followers, judge by clicks if she fits the criteria.
In this vein, soon after the launch of Lorde Inc., IMG Models created the #WLYG (weloveyourgenes) Instagram campaign. They encouraged aspiring models of colour, and of all ages and sizes to apply to their 'Development' section. With over 70K followers, this initiative has been well received.
Models are also moving the diversity debate forward. This seasons New York Fashion Week saw the artist and model Ashley B Chew featured in show reports wearing her 'Black Models Matter' bag, which expressed her frustration at the lack of diversity in the industry. Consequently #blackmodelsmatter became a popular hashtag at NYFW.
Using the Internet, people from all ethnicities and backgrounds are becoming more comfortable presenting their image to the world, thus challenging the mainstream notions of the beauty ideal. Together with agencies like Lorde Inc., the fashion landscape is in a state of perfect flux.
It will take time for the influences of the diversity movement to reach the most powerful fashion houses; but with advocates like Nafisa, the future for the next generation of models is looking bright.
This post also featured in High Content magazine.