IN an oversized logo trench, Plasma struts down a futuristic runway at Cité du Cinéma, a film studio complex located slightly north of Paris. His hair drapes down his structured face and brushes his bleached brows as he marches across the stage. Balenciaga is unveiling its anticipated Spring/Summer 2019 collection.

No one in the audience — their eyes peeled and mouth slightly ajar — would have guessed that the Japanese Balenciaga model was scouted barely five months ago in the Koenji neighbourhood in Tokyo.

Plasma is just one of the many examples how the recent Paris Fashion Week (PFW) is embracing diversity today, a case study in how fashion mimics politics and social movements. While some brands have brought back older models, others, such as Balenciaga, are casting “real” people from off the streets.

“They’re not just actors and models, each of them does something, each of them has the presence I’m always looking for, each of them has their own way of wearing clothes,” explained Demna Gvasalia, Balenciaga’s creative director.

Turning Colour Blind

With more people of colour leading the runway shows for labels this year, it is no wonder diversity is a common thread running through the entire PFW.

Besides the PFW, the New York Fashion Week also showcased a stunning display of racial diversity. Every runway show in New York had at least one model of colour, according to a report by fashion website The Fashion Spot. Racial diversity also reached an all-time high during the fashion week, as nearly half — 44.8 percent to be exact — of runway castings were models of colour, the report added. This is a 7.5 percent increase from the previous season.

The heartening trend extends to management ranks in the industry. More people of colour are filling top positions at renowned fashion houses. One notable example is Virgil Abloh — the man behind the Off White label — who was appointed as Louis Vuitton’s artistic director earlier this year. Many have lauded this as step in the right direction for diversity.

Blurring Gender Lines

But beyond a celebration of cultural and racial diversity, the PFW this year was a stark display of blurred gender lines.

In recent years, there seems to be a greater “awarenes” (even enlightenment, we would chance) towards sexuality and the freedom of expression, said Singapore-based freelance fashion stylist Randolph Tan, adding how Maison Margiela’s show at the recent PFW proved this point by fielding women dressed in zoot suits.

Vogue’s Anna Wintour also concurred.

“Sexuality and gender fluidity; not being concerned about male (or) female, is something that has been of interest to John (Galliano), but never more so, I think, than this triumphant Margiela show that really explored the identity in a very free way,” she said in a Youtube interview.

Wintour added that there is a possibility that “menswear and womenswear doesn’t have to be separated anymore”.

Besides the spectacle put up by Maison Margiela’s Galliano, fashion House Gucci also diluted the boundaries of male and female by bolding dressing up its male models in leotards, bodysuits and jockstraps.

Over at the famed Louvre, Louis Vuitton was also doing their part during the PFW. A closer look reveals that the French luxury brand is casting transgender models in its shows, while also contributing to a new era of androgynous dressing.

“They were actually all girls – it was a question of empowerment and ambiguity,” explained Louis Vuitton’s creative director Nicolas Ghesquière.

Given the works of Maison Margiela, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, the Paris Fashion Week indeed embodies the rise of a new generation of thinkers and leaders. A generation of change — not just one embracing cultural or racial diversity, but one that blurs gender lines. One that celebrates the person over their physical attributes and provenance. Who knows, perhap’s Wintour’s grand vision of gender-unspecific stores will soon come to pass.

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