As of last week, I am heartbroken to report that approximately 1.7 billion can be reported missing. The entire subcontinent of India, containing 25% of the world’s population and covering 3.3% of the world’s land surface area, was almost completely absent from London Fashion Week. And I have absolutely no idea why, how, or what on earth is happening.
In the entire time I was at LFW for Fashion Scout – and I personally was involved in about 15 shows with another 15 or so going on around me – I think I saw about four or five models who presented as if they were from South Asia. There were a couple I worked with as presentations manager, for example in the Constanzia Yurashko show:
I worked with two Indian designers – Rocky Star and Kartikeya – and though they had some stunning designs, even they did not have Indian models in their lineup. For the life of me, I cannot work out why.
Where on earth is the representation for South Asian people in western fashion and media? Raj Koothrappali in the Big Bang Theory? The weird guy who cannot speak to girls for five seasons of the show and who spends most of his time saying wildly sexist things that are somehow forgiven. Don’t worry guys, it’s just his desperate search for a girlfriend and that makes it all okay. Or do we look to the headmaster from Glee?
Of course, there’s legendary Miss World Aishwarya Rai, who I think most people would recognise. Priyanka Chopra married Nick Jonas in the wedding that defined 2018. Models like Dipti Sharma are also doing well and walking for pretty big designers (check this Vogue article on her). But as an Indian who spends a vast amount of time embroiled in the fashion industry, I still fail to name more than a few people making waves in the industy from my background. Just to reiterate, 25% of the world’s population.
Having talked about it with a few people at LFW, the response I generally got was something along the lines of – “Of course in India we use Indian models and that makes up a large part of our market, but we want to market to the West”. Given that India is the most populous democracy in the world, the market there is pretty self-sustaining, and it certainly is booming. So when these designers, some of whom are very successful in the Indian subcontinent, try to break the Western market, they do so by trying to appeal to the Western ideal. From a business point of view it does make sense, and given that there are many successful film stars and models in India, it’s probably working for them.
But then this little fact comes to the fore: “India’s skin whitening market is expected to achieve an annual market revenue of $720 million by 2023“. In fact, read this heart-breaking article in Bright and you realise that colourism and the desire for whiteness is still deeply destructive in India today. The damage left over from centuries of colonialism – that was of course deeply racist and also colourist – is deeply ingrained in India’s psyche.
So, yes, it may show business acumen to market even Indian clothing to the West using white models. But representation for the subcontinent of India needs to be talked about a lot more than it is. Just because the country is in some ways economically successful, and doesn’t always face the same racism that other cultures face in Western countries (anymore at least), that doesn’t mean that the scars of whitewashing don’t run incredibly deep.
The West needs to see and appreciate beautiful South Asian people. And it wouldn’t hurt some people back home to see their skin being accepted over here either.
“After all, we make ourselves according to the ideas we have of our possibilities” – V. S Naipaul