Although this column is entitled “Fashion Forward,” I feel like I am often compelled to write about the ways in which the fashion industry is backward. I sigh and type away, wishing that the fashion industry could move forward not only in its designs, but in its outlook on the world and the people who inhabit it. This week I am excited to be able to take a more hopeful glance at an industry that I love, but am often very critical of. Fashion is learning, slowly but surely, to embrace all women, one step at a time.
The ad reads, “WE ARE CONNECTED #DIESELREBOOT”-it’s for Diesel’s Spring/Summer 2014 campaign. What is different about this ad is that it features Jillian Mercado, prominent fashion blogger, owner of the site Manufactured 1987, and the executive editorial assistant for We The Urban. But she is not alone. The ad includes with Mercado a pretty fabulous accessory: her electric wheelchair. Mercado was diagnosed with spastic muscular dystrophy and needs the wheelchair included in the ad to get around. The chair is not hidden, disguised, photoshopped, or shot around. The chair is not treated as an embarrassment or blemish. Rather, it is quietly present.
Nicola Formichetti, Diesel’s artistic director, said he was looking for “a rebellious attitude, which is closely tied to denim,” when discussing his model choice for this campaign. These were qualities he found in Mercado, who shares her story on her blog, Manufactured 1987. Mercado is a strikingly beautiful girl with unusual features that begged to be looked at over and over again. She takes risks in her fashion choices and even appeared on a Pix11 news segment with purple hair. She is a risk taker and knowledgeable fashionista who isn’t afraid to share this persona. Her disease may have put her in a wheelchair, but she hardly lets it define her lifestyle. She chooses stylish pieces and is often on the brink of what’s happening and chic in fashion, all from her seat. It is easy to forget that the chair is even there.
Redefining beauty standards in our society does not only need to entail race and weight, which are often hot button topics in the fashion world. Our conversation of beauty can be one that encompasses all women no matter how they look or how they must travel through this world. The beauty of this ad is that while it does not focus solely on the wheelchair-which surely does not define Mercado-it also does not get rid of it. It makes a statement and the statement is that it’s there. That’s all. Some people are in wheelchairs, and they can be fashionable in the same ways as those who aren’t are.
What these ads also say is that anyone can wear Diesel clothing. It is not meant only for lanky runway models, or young girls, or any other strange subgroup, but rather it is welcoming to all sorts of people. In an industry that makes its bread and butter on cultivating looks and being obsessed with appearances, it is amazing to see a brand as prominent as Diesel reaching out to women who may not fall into generally advertised demographics. Shocking and fabulous, just as fashion should be.
Hopefully this will be a call to action for other major brands to consider including people of many different body types, lifestyles, shapes, sizes, colors, creeds, etc. into ad campaigns. Making different kinds of beauty visible is the first step to widespread body acceptance within the fashion industry and our everyday lives. For women whose bodies do not fit the narrow ideal showcased by most major fashion brands, it can be hard to imagine what clothes will look like on their different frames. Diesel is not only addressing this problem, but also celebrating beauty. Haute couture will always be haute couture, and it will be slow to change, but it is so wonderful to see our measures of beauty and our depictions of it start to encompass more and more women.
And honestly, this whole campaign inspires me to go look at Diesel’s website and see what the Italian brand is peddling these days. I can get behind a brand that shares my concerns and my idea of what beautiful means. By standing up in such a way, Diesel has made me believe in its line and ultimately want to support it in this mission. Fashion for a cause, or fashion with a purpose, or fashion that you really know about and really care about, is the best way to guide your purchasing power. Look into what you wear. A great pair of heels looks best when paired with strong convictions about where they come from.