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The death of Tokenism

Left: Naomi Campbell x Valentino Haute Couture S/S19 | Right: Tommy x Zendaya S/S19 - ph Getty

In the nearly three month period heralding the start of 2019, the sartorial statements of Last season have given way to new and improved collections. While Dior’s S/S 2018 couture line showcased eye-catching - yet muted - monochrome pieces, its S/S 2019 couture exhibited delightfully whimsical designs. Louis Vuitton’s F/W 2018 RTW collection donned its models in the regalia reminiscent of a bygone era while its S/S 2019 RTW counterpart propelled itself into the future with graphic space-age prints and silhouettes. Quite literally, it's out with the old and in the with new. But there's one trend that has dominated runways across the board that may have seen its last days: tokenism.

For far too long, fashion has fallen under the yoke of tokenism, with industry titans besieging those in the margins with false idols and even falser promises. The longstanding symbiosis between fashion and faulty representation has been a growing source of contention in recent years but might very well be coming to a close.

In late January, we took a glimpse behind the veil of an industry not adulterated by the influence of duplicitous diversity. It took form in cascades of flowing chiffon and organza that dominated the Valentino S/S 2019 couture catwalk. Piccioli used natural beauty in a collection that brought fantastical flora to the runway. The pieces drew impeccable parallels between the myriad models from all backgrounds and the verdure-turned-couture that made for a voracious audience. After Naomi Campbell made a rare runway appearance to close out the show, she - and the the rest of the crowd, for that matter - couldn’t contain her tears. The Valentino show would become the paradigm of what the industry could (and should) look like.

Valentino Haute Couture S/S 2019 - ph Getty

Less than two months later, we’d sit front row at a lighthearted alternative to Piccioli’s highbrow couture masterpieces with the Tommy x Zendaya collaboration collection. On a runway dripping in disco decor, a parade of models showed the world that “Black Girl Magic” is a statement not only relevant today, but also stretching back entire generations of fierce yet under appreciated women. The launch brought together more than just an array of women of color, but also a range of ages that spanned from late teens to 70 years old.

Tommy x Zendaya S/S 2019 - ph Getty

The ambience was unmistakably that of a party rather than a professional runway debut. Fashion alums such as Pat Cleveland and Beverly Johnson strutted down the catwalk as the crowd succumbed to “Ooh”-s and “Aah”-s joined by the kind of uproarious laughter that can only company pure joy. Not only did the collaboration annihilate racial discrimination and ageism, but also sizeism. Some of the models showcased 70’s-themed color schemes on well-loved, bodacious bodies that were the real stars of the show. It was an homage to the throngs of women (and men) that have been saying for years that fashion should be accessible to all shapes and sizes.

Whether it’s in the gilded halls of Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild or a decked out discotheque dancehall, inclusivity does not discriminate against context. There is a place for diversity, and it is here and now. The future isn’t coming - it's arrived. It quite literally rests on the shoulders of the magnates, moguls, and models that make the industry what it is today to keep thrusting this once-exclusive field into being one of widespread egalitarian opportunity.

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