It’s couture week in Paris and the dresses are bigger and sparklier than ever. The glitz and the drama are overshadowed a bit, however, by the casting choices. We did some math, and according to our numbers, some couture shows had casts that were as much as 72% Caucasian. And if we single out black women? In one show featuring over 90 looks, only 11 black women walked.
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Street style inclusion is even worse. We may pat ourselves on the back for industry progress when it comes to “size diversity” and “racial diversity.” But it’s quite striking to peruse Getty Images looking for the chicest looks of “Paris Couture Day 1,” only to be met with a sea of white women in designer clothes (with the exception of a few models leaving the backstage of a show, still in their makeup looks). On Day 1, I personally looked through seven pages of street-style images, finding only six examples of women who weren’t white as subjects.
It’s no surprise (but still wildly unsettling) that couture, the most exclusive of all fashion weeks, would be the last to reflect the new wave of “inclusivity.” In fact, couture, by its very existence, serves to be not inclusive.
But this morning, at the show of one of the more politically incorrect characters in fashion, we saw the second black bride in Chanel history walk the runway. (Alex Wek previously stole the show as Chanel's bride during the fall 2004 couture show wearing a feather cape). In pistachio no less, Adut Akech proudly walked beside the Kaiser. And while rumors continue to swirl that this could be his last show (or at the very least, one of them) it’s quite telling that the brand’s decision makers decidedly chose this casting. The conversation was turned not to his retirement, or even to the clothes, necessarily, but to the cultural implications of the race of his bride.
Her Instagram says everything you need to know about her feelings: "Cannot believe I just made history by being Chanel’s second black couture bride, this is one of my most proudest achievements!!!” She continued, "Knowing that I am an inspiration to someone is one of the best feelings you could endure as a human being. To the young girls and boys who look up to me I want you guys to know no matter who you are, where you come from or what you have, as long as you have a dream it is achievable as long as you put in hard work, give it your all, stay dedicated, determined and most importantly never give up because u will make that dream a reality at some point."
Adut’s agency received such an influx of media requests that they released a statement from the South Sudanese-born model: "There are no amount of words that can express what this moment means to me. The beauty of having a dream is watching it come to life. This was just a special moment that I will always remember and cherish for as long as I live.”
Adut spent her youth in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp before moving to Adelaide Australia in 2008 with her family. She made her international runway debut in 2006 when she walked exclusively for Saint Laurent, and has since appeared in campaigns for Valentino and Moschino.