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How London Fashion Week has embraced diversity

At a time when the fashion industry is trying to be more inclusive, Odessa Paloma Parker reports that the most recent round of London runway shows finally got the sentiment right

Often, when the fashion industry embraces a cause, it doesn't go too deep. Take, for example, Dior's "We Should All Be Feminists" T-shirts from spring/summer 2017. Flaunted by street style darlings and sold with a hefty price tag (US$710), the gesture came across as naive since models at the runway show for the same collection were one body type (thin) and primarily one race (Caucasian).

At the fall/winter 2018 shows in London, there was almost an air of impatience with fashion's embrace of empty gestures that stood out in the collections, the kind of frustration that drives a deeper dissection of traditional aesthetics and narratives, and ultimately leads to real change. Designers, regardless of whether they identify as women, wanted to take a stand on a diverse range of hot-button issues and let those they're dressing in turn, stand out.

Let's examine the clothes themselves. Whether they were fuss-free and relied on strong silhouettes such as those at Rejina Pyo's standout show, or caught the eye thanks to flashy colours, the garments at LFW this season were in no way passive. Instead, they said, "Notice me. I'm here."

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London’s Fashion Week celebrated standing out from the crowd with designs from, starting from top, Richard Quinn, Mary Katrantzou, Shrimps and Delpozo.

There were very few collections that didn't feature at least one piece with sequins, and some designers embraced them in extreme ways. Roksanda Ilincic's refined yet artful offering was capped off with gowns festooned in oversized paillettes, and Delpozo, Toga and MM6 Maison Margiela also utilized those little discs to maximum effect. Ashish's show boasted pieces cut from fuzzy rainbow fabric, and Richard Quinn's maximalist fantasy (presented at a show attended by Her Majesty The Queen, the monarch's first front-row appearance in her 66-year long reign) featured custom prints developed at the young designer's studio.

But it wasn't just the clothes that called for women to stand out. The inspirations behind the most notable collections were equally empowering. As I sat in Christopher Kane's moody, lustful show, the soundtrack's message drove into my brain. Featuring samples of text read from the classic book, The Joy of Sex, the notions of "more joy" and specialness were on repeat (and translated into bawdy illustrations on the garments). It struck me as important because it reinforced the idea that, in all aspects of life, women deserve to be satisfied as much as men. At Hannah Weiland's presentation for her eclectic brand Shrimps, Gertrude Stein, the American novelist, playwright and poet, was a key influence, right down to the wigs sported by the models. And some of Mary Katrantzou's fall/winter wares were inspired by the Bauhaus, a school notable for its inclusion of both male and female students at a time when that was rare.

Perhaps most importantly for the cause of inclusion on the catwalk and beyond, London Fashion Week began with an announcement by the British Fashion Council about its Models First Initiative, which will set best practices for the industry to ensure the safety and well-being of those working the runway. At a time when revelations of abuse and mistreatment abound in the fashion world, the resolution is especially timely.

Non-model types – often ridiculously deemed "real people" – also received their due at the shows. Teatum Jones, whose elegant collection was titled "Global Womanhood," featured ethnically and age-diverse models, as well as women considered plus-sized and disabled model Kelly Knox. Their presence felt so organic, so normal, that it felt almost absurd to think about the initiative in the same context as those pricey Dior tees with their pithy sloganeering.

We don't need brands to further marginalize us with their lucrative trends – we need them to hold a mirror to our strengths, our differences, our desires and our individual beauty. And that's just what happened in London.

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