Prabal Gurung, one of America's young design sweethearts, showed one of his best collections to date this past week. Aside from the glowing reviews that he has received for the cuts and construction of the garments that comprise his Spring/Summer 2014 collection, which celebrates the elegant woman, he also is worthy of regard for the casting of his runway show.
Unlike the majority of designers/design houses - which place a few token black and/or Asian models (usually Joan Smalls, Chanel Iman, Liu Wen, Fei Fei Sun, Fernando Cabral, Paolo Roldan, or one of the other famous black and Asian models) on their runways to avoid end-of-season claims of racism in casting - Prabal does not define his view of beauty in accordance with fashion's norms. Instead, his runways continually exemplify a diverse standard of beauty, one which is often not shared by many of his peers, and especially not by most of the industry's established design houses.
For Spring/Summer 2014, Karlie Kloss, Cat McNeill, Ondria Hardin and Ashleigh Good shared the runway with Chiharu Okunugi (who is Japanese), Herieth Paul (who is Tanzanian), JiHye Park (who is South Korean), Senait Gidey and Grace Mahary (the latter is pictured above, who are both from Canada and of East African descent), Ming Xi (from China), Angolan born Maria Borges, and Varsha Thapa (who is from Gurung's native Nepal).
While his show consisted of a well-rounded line up of models, something else set seemed to Gurung apart. He was not trying to make a #diversity statement this season. He casts multi-cultural girls each season. Joan Smalls opened his Spring 2013/Summer show (and appeared in his ad campaign), for instance. Ji Hye Park opened his Fall/Winter 2013 show. -- But wait, calling attention to such diversity might do Gurung a disservice. He is not doing it for the press write ups, after all. He is doing it because this is how he defines beauty.
Gurung's genuine embrace of diversity is, nonetheless, a rarity in the fashion industry. Despite frequent pushes - often by way of a variety of articles after each runway season - to use more girls of different ethnicities, change has been slow. Oftentimes, fashion - as an industry that is hugely superficial in nature - is able to sweep its shortcomings under the rug, under the guise that, "This is just fashion."
This is presumably why the runways are still massively whitewashed (particularly in Europe) and the models still sample size. Designers - and creatives, in general - tend to get away with a lot. Comme des Garçons, for instance, has not cast more than a few black models in the past twenty years. That is two decades without so much a more than a handful of black models.
If we take this into account, Prabal's consistent casting of an array of diverse models is even more beautiful because it is not forced. He casts the models walk in his shows because they fit the mold of the women for whom he designs and for this reason alone. He does not purposefully select them because he wants to avoid being ridiculed in the flood of articles that routinely follow New York Fashion Week (and the other fashion weeks) that boycott designers and/or break down the percentage of models that walked in shows by nationality.
Hopefully more designers - and casting directors - will follow suit.