Sunday, October 24, 2010

Interview Blog: Michelle Obama, One brick on the diversity path

Last time, I spoke with Jason Anderson, the Store Sales Lead of retail giant New York and Company, and was surprised to hear some interesting revelations on Anderson’s take of Michelle Obama and the fashion industry in general. To Anderson diversity in the industry had always been around, but, was becoming more prevalent due to the industry’s yearning to keep up with the changes.

Nathan Rigaud is the head fashion photographer for Wisteria Productions L.L.C and the Director of operations of ModElla Management where he oversees all aspects of the talent agency. I was able to be squeezed into his busy schedule, and have a conversation on his views of the fashion industry and delve further into my pressing investigation, Michelle Obama’s impact on the Fashion industry’s diversity climb. Although Anderson believed that the industry wasn’t really changing but, that more aspects are becoming more prevalent, Rigaud has claimed to see more than meets the eye.

“Diversity is becoming more accepted and promoted. Just yesterday I saw [actress] Zoe Saldana in a commercial for Calvin Klein! I think we have come a long way since 1974, when we saw the first African American on the cover of Vogue magazine, now it’s not such an unusual sight to see diversity in magazines and on the runway” said Rigaud.

Since supermodel Beverly Johnson graced the cover of the groundbreaking 1974 issue of Vogue Magazine, statistics in diversity have indeed slowly risen.
Popular blogging site, reported on the statistics of women of color becoming more prevalent on the runways and in the industry. We have seen a steady rise in women of color, from 13% in 2008 to an estimated 18.2% in the Spring 2011 collections. Although the incline is still seems to be slow, it does raise some questions as to why women of color are being used more frequently. As a fashion photographer, part of Rigaud’s job description entails keeping up with fashion industry. Rigaud speculated that “Designers are starting to step out and look for more unique looks to better portray their styles and reach a wider audience. “ In addition, Rigaud also said that he believed “more women of color are striving to be models on the runway and in magazines.”

More designers are taking an interest in women of color? Could the rise in ethnic diverse models be the real reason for the culture boom? Rigaud viewed the change as interesting and stated that one of the reasons why could be because of Michelle Obama. “[She] is in a position where she is constantly being observed. She holds herself to a level of professionalism at all times which is a big reason to her success at maintaining this look and the way she dresses.” Rigaud believed that because of her constant reminder on how professional women should portray themselves, that she is indeed a fashion icon and could be a reason for the rising numbers.

However, he and Anderson do agree on one perspective, although Michelle Obama may be one of the reasons why diversity in fashion is becoming more prevalent, she may be indeed only a small part. It hasn’t been long since models the likes of Waris Dire and Naomi Campbell strutted down the runways and flowed over magazine cover and it seems that consumers and industry professionals are looking over that fact. Rigaud contributes the rise in diversity to two figures in particular, Tyra Banks and Oprah Winfrey.

“I would say that Tyra Banks and Oprah Winfrey probably provide the biggest impacts on diversity in the fashion industry. Both are looked to as icons for many women, regardless of their skin color, and have been highly active in the campaign for bringing more diversity.”

So, Michelle Obama may not be one of the biggest reasons for diversity in fashion after all. But, one thing seems to be clear from Mr. Rigaud, that the FLOTUS has paved some of the pathways towards the higher percentages of diversity in fashion. When asked where he saw fashion heading in years to come, Rigaud believed that the industry would start placing more interest in smaller cities. He emphasized that “all branches of media are really connected”. Seeing that without one industry, there can’t be another. Music, film and even politics, all require fashion in some form.

“Denver still has a long way to go as far as the Fashion industry is concerned, but [Denver] is becoming more and more popular in the realm of music so it will be interesting to see how well that’s going to play in with the industry of fashion”.

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