are real people the new faces of fashion?

From the always-shocking HBA runway to last week’s news that Kenneth Cole will include double-amputee Noah Galloway in his fragrance campaign and that trans activist Jazz Jennings will be the new face of Clean & Clear, extremely diverse casting has...

by Alice Newell-Hanson
20 March 2015, 3:05pm

winnie harlow by harry carr

"Of course a lot of people are underrepresented in fashion," says photographer and Hood By Air casting director Kevin Amato. "I did an editorial maybe five years ago for a big house and I shot all black boys and the house banned me from shooting their clothes for the whole season."

But, says Amato, things are changing. "Now I look and I see diversity. It's what everybody is doing. It's quite brilliant." And that shift goes beyond race to embrace different genders, ages, body types and sexualities. We are seeing a range of people in campaigns and in shows now that would have been unthinkable not so long ago.

Performance artist Boychild at Hood by Air. Photography Harry Carr.

"Diversity is becoming more of a given now," agrees casting director Preston Chaunsumlit. "More mass brands are casting more widely because their audience is diversifying." Chaunsumlit — who has overseen casting for publications including DIS magazine, and whose hunt for both models and "nodels" (non-models who model) was mockumented on VFiles' webshow "Model Files" — brings up JC Penney as an example of a commercial brand that is making moves to represent social groups that are too often marginalized or ignored by the fashion industry.

Last summer, the chain's New York store used "real size mannequins" for its window display. They included mannequins modeled on wheel chair-user Dawna Callahan, former Army paratrooper Neil Duncan, who is an amputee, and the 6'1" basketball player Desiree Hunter. It's the perfect more-commercial counterpoint to the diversification of the runway that's happening at higher end brands like HBA, where again, season after season, the casting blurs the lines of race, gender and sexuality. And change is happening in the beauty industry too. On Saturday, the trans activist Jazz Jennings was announced as the new face of major Johnson & Johnson brand Clean & Clear.

Yes to this.

And yes also to last week's announcement that Noah Galloway, an Iraq War veteran and double amputee, will be the new face of Kenneth Cole's new men's fragrance.

This particular casting decision also raises important questions about the way in which brands use casting within their marketing campaigns. Kenneth Cole has a history of making controversial marketing statements. Just one example: in 2011, Cole published a tweet which implied that political riots in Cairo were in fact caused by excitement over the launch of his line's spring collection. Cole later told Details, "If you look at lists of the biggest Twitter gaffes ever, we're always one through five. But our stock went up that day, our e-commerce business was better, the business at every one of our stores improved."

Are some brands casting with the intent to make a splash, rather than because a model feels like a natural spokesperson for their product? Probably.

Flashback to 1998, and that was the accusation leveled at Alexander McQueen by the British press when Paralympic athlete Aimee Mullins opened his show wearing a pair of wooden legs (hand-carved by the designer from solid ash and complete with six-inch heels). But to the contrary, McQueen told i-D in 2002: "I made a point of not putting her in...sprinting legs. We did try them on but I thought no, that's not the point of this exercise. The point is that she was to mould in with the rest of the girls." McQueen chose Mullins to open his show because she represented what he wanted to communicate with his collection: strength, beauty, and uniqueness — not, at least primarily, for shock factor. Mullins herself spoke about the experience as empowering and transformative, and she continued to be a muse to McQueen until his death in 2010.

Alexander McQueen spring/summer 1999

"I think what separates good casting directors from average ones is being able to match a brand with real people organically," said i-D casting director Angus Munro, drawing a line between tokenism and authentic moves towards diversification.

Munro references Rick Owens as a brand that has continued to push boundaries with its casting in an organic way. "We started street casting for Rick Owens ten years ago and if you look at the men's shows especially, so many people have followed our route with that kind of casting. It's become almost the norm. Men's casting has changed unbelievably in the past few years and is much more representative of different demographics."

Hood By Air, too, has led the way for a more representative runway. "When I first started casting for HBA, it was about selling a lifestyle," says Amato. "But it wasn't really a lifestyle, it was just us. We've never said, 'these are the rules.' We never had to answer to anybody. And now we've worked with department stores and with the LVMH group and it's interesting to see how they've accepted it. But it's been a challenge, selling the idea."

And of course, there's still a long, long way to go. But as Winnie Harlow, the 20-year-old model with vitiligo who starred in Deisel's spring/summer 15 ad campaign told i-D recently, "the shift in the perception of beauty in the fashion industry" is something to celebrate — even if it is happening ever so, ever so slowly, one casting at a time.


Text Alice Newell-Hanson
Photography Harry Carr

Alexander McQueen
Hood By Air
Rick Owens
Preston Chaunsumlit
angus munro
kevin amato