Kenzo X H&M's new campaign: an important statement about fashion diversity
The high street brand’s new campaign is racially diverse at a time when the industry is still playing catch up
The lack of diversity in the fashion industry is a perennial issue. Late last year, Balmain’s creative director Olivier Rousteing told Newsnight: “We can’t forget, but fashion is sometimes defined as a white world ... I love showing reality on my catwalk and I think we are going back to that.”
Hopeful words, but for every Balmain (whose catwalks regularly feature models such as Jourdan Dunn, Lineisy Montero and Dudley O’Shaughnessy) and Nasir Mazhar, there is a Demna Gvasalia (Vetements, Balenciaga).
Gvasalia’s envelope-pushing designs were notably not matched by catwalk diversity. Although there are signs that change is afoot, there was an awkward disconnect between the early championing of Vetements by the likes of Rihanna and Kanye West and the runway reality of their shows: a parade of white models felt distinctly retrograde in this most aesthetically modern of shows and sent out a message of exclusion. As James Scully, casting director for Stella McCartney,commented on Instagram in reference to Gvasalia’s debut show for Balenciaga: “It must feel like a slap to all the people of colour who line up to buy your clothes that your message to them is that you don’t see them in your world.”
The world portrayed in the new lookbook from Kenzo in collaboration with H&M, however, seems more in step with the “reality” Rousteing spoke of. The key picture features Amy Sall – a lecturer in 1950s African film and photography, and the founder of the Sunu Journal, that covers African affairs and aesthetics – who describes herself as “unapologetically Muslim, African, black”. She is intertwined with transgender DJ and artist Juliana Huxtable, both dressed in tiger print body suits, Jacquard tiger boots and black leather gloves.
The Kenzo X H&M ad campaign is a significant fixture on the high street’s fashion calendar: its combination of clashing prints, eye-popping colours and structured mise-en-scène has always boldly stood out. And for a global, billion-pound fashion brand to make such a visual statement, is very bold indeed.