March 1, 2010
Debenhams has continued to celebrate the diversity of their consumers. Last week, the UK department launched an advertising campaign for their Principles fashion line that features models of a variety of sizes, backgrounds, and abilities. By celebrating women of all abilities, the chain became the first UK fashion retailer to employ a model who uses a wheelchair in an advert. Michael Sharp, Debenhams’ Deputy Chief Executive, said: “We cater for women of all shapes and sizes, young and old, non-disabled and disabled, so we wanted our windows to reflect this choice.” Debenhams says that it is committed to using disabled models in other photography; a second photographic shoot is being organized.
While there has been much debate over the inclusion of size diversity in fashion, the incorporation of women and men of a variety of abilities has remained absent in the media. In my fight for diversity, I have always included abilities as one of the positions in the movement for diversity in fashion. In 1998, when my agency held a model search in Ottawa, we selected Joe Radmore, who uses a wheelchair, as the winner of the search. That same year, the brilliant Alexander McQueen used model Aimee Mullins, with two specially carved wooden, prosthetic legs that he had designed, in his London Fashion Week show. All of these efforts are important steps in diversifying fashion, but it is important to recognize that models of different abilities that have been incorporated into fashion to date have represented the singular and accepted size, age, and racial beauty standard. To be truly groundbreaking, fashion needs to use people of diverse abilities who are also of a variety of sizes, ages, and backgrounds in their adverts and on their catwalks.
Debenhams reminds us all that we must continue to push, with courage and conviction, for people of all abilities to be incorporated into fashion advertising and on the runway. Fashion and style knows no size, no age, no background, and no ability; they are open to our definitions and re-definitions because the most important runway is not the catwalk in New York or Paris, but the sidewalk in our neighbourhood where we breath life into the clothes – whether we strut, limp, or wheel.