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Paris fashion darling in race row for only using white models

08 March 2016, 15:46

Paris - Diversity campaigners Monday condemned the darling of Paris fashion week after he failed to cast a single model of colour in his two headline-grabbing shows.

Demna Gvasalia, who counts black music superstars Rihanna and Kanye West among his biggest fans, used only white models in shows for his own hip Vetements label and for Balenciaga Sunday, where he has just taken over as creative director.

The British-based Models for Diversity group slammed his choice as "appalling, unbelievable and bewildering".

Its founder Angel Sinclair told AFP that the omission was all the more "shocking after the great strides at New York fashion week" and in other Paris shows - among the most diverse ever staged in the French capital.

"What was he thinking? I can't believe that Kanye (West) could have anything to do with him," she said.

Last month the rapper turned fashion designer -- a regular front row guest at previous Vetements shows -- threatened to poach Gvasalia, 34, from the Spanish label.

"I'm going to steal Demna from Balenciaga," he tweeted.

Sinclair, a former model, said given that the Georgian-born designer had built his reputation on edgy streetwear inspired by black fashion culture, not using black models was "gross".

"He is insulting all the black people who have been supporting him. He really needs to be educated," she said.

Gvasalia, 34, who fled his war-torn homeland as a child for Germany, has said that he gets his inspiration from riding the metro through one of the most ethnically mixed parts of Paris.

But photographs of previous Vetements shows seen by AFP show his label only ever used a non-white model once on the catwalk, an Asian model for the 2015 autumn winter collection.

Balenciaga apologised Monday for any offence the show might have caused, but said "the ethnic origin of models did not enter into consideration in any way when casting models for the show.

"An unintended consequence was the lack of diversity... of the models who finally went on the runway. Balenciaga is committed to equal opportunity and to no discrimination of any kind (because of) shapes, sizes, races or ages," it told AFP.

Vetements has yet to comment.

- 'No excuse' -

The brand's edgy, oversized look has taken Paris fashion by storm since it began two years ago as an anonymous collective of creators.

Its models' unconventional looks quickly became part of its rebellious appeal.

So influential has it become that Vogue fashion guru Suzy Menkes tweeted "Come the revolution, Vetements is where to dress" after seeing its show on Thursday.

Gvasalia often casts his friends and fellow designers, or plucks people straight from the street for their interesting, melancholic or often ravaged faces.

But the American website Fashionista said that was no excuse as they called out the young designer for his lack of diversity after the Balenciaga show.

Casting skinny white models may have been "on-brand, but it was problematic to exclude non-white models, not to mention inconsiderate of the brand's many fans and customers of different races," it said.

"Sending the message, deliberately or not, that these 'cool kids' can only be white isn't only inaccurate, but marks a step back for the industry," it added.

Koche and H&M Studio had earlier drawn plaudits for their multiethnic and mixed-aged casting, and while Japanese label Undercover also used only white models, they ranged in age from their teens to their seventies.

Nearly half of the models Balmain's tyro Olivier Rousteing sent out were women of colour.

The mixed-race French designer, a favourite of the Kardashian clan, has been a strong advocate of diversity and a supporter of supermodel Naomi Campbell's campaign for designers to better reflect the world's women on the catwalk.


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