-A conversation on diverse casting and inclusivity’s place in Fashion with Model Director, Archie Summerhayes.
The Leeds RAG Fashion Show has been a prolific part of student life for more than a decade now and, being awarded Best Event for 8 years running, the show’s notoriety has consistently championed fundraising within the University of Leeds. The Raise and Give society’s (RAG) Fashion Show allows for upcycled garments, often created and designed by local designers and students, to reflect the causes supported by the charities selected. Last year’s theme, Eudaimonia, reflected the focus on mental health and the show was centred around expressions of emotions and a journey towards being ‘found,’. This year, with the theme still yet to be revealed, the focus on inclusivity and diversity within the model castings suggests the show to be another great success in supporting contemporary issues often neglected by the wider Fashion Industry.
Sitting down with Archie Summerhayes, the Model Director of the 2024 Leeds RAG Fashion Show (LRFS), we spoke about the importance of inclusivity within the LRFS, as well as its place within the Fashion industry as a whole.
Archie has worked as a model alongside studying for his degree for over two years; he has built an impressive oeuvre already, walking in Paris Fashion Week 2023 and modelling for the likes of Bershka and Levi’s. With first-hand experience of working within the Fashion Industry, Archie doesn’t negate the more so negative aspects of the traditional modelling world, speaking of being considered just as a ‘body,’ and the typical tall-slim-phenotype the modelling world encourages. With this in mind, Archie postulated that the RAG casting calls were more so interested in the person rather than just their body. ‘We held online applications to get to know the people, and then asked the models to perform two walks; one more traditionally runway, and the other just to show some personality,’. With more than 350 applicants, plus walk-ins, the process to narrow down the cast appears a careful one. ‘There are beautiful things about everyone, and they can be traditionally overlooked,’ said Archie, and to RAG, this ‘uniqueness is celebrated,’. The casting process welcomed all body types and aesthetics, with Archie suggesting the most important thing for the show is to ‘build a collection of interesting looking people, we want diversity in our models, and we want them to represent the wider student population,’. With this ethos, this show is sure to subvert traditional assumptions of beauty and what body types constitute ‘high fashion’.
When asked why this sense of inclusivity and diversity is paramount to the construction of the LRFS cast, Archie explained that ‘lots of people in the Fashion Industry are underrepresented, whereas we want RAG itself to be more accessible. For example, RAG is a free society membership, and we are just looking to build a diverse cast with people eager to try new things,’. The very foundations of the RAG Fashion Show itself reside in giving people an opportunity, whether that be those an opportunity to try modelling, those to create a recognised collection of hand-made fashion, and even to those positively affected by the money raised for the charities.
Commenting on the Fashion Industry itself, Archie spoke to how the clothing used within the Fashion Show is made sustainably and by local designers and therefore is able to accommodate all measurements and body types. As Archie explained, the strict measurements normalised within the high-fashion world emerge from the couture aspects of design, often with only one sample piece of clothing created and the model criteria selected to fit this size and vision of the designer. However, LSFS works to again subvert this convention, with the models selected prior to the creation of the garments. In addition, Archie emphasised the attempt to move away from ‘unrealistic standards perpetuated in social media’ and the new wave of ‘Instagram models,’ percolating through the average person’s daily media consumption in order to localise beauty and celebrate individuality.
Commenting on inclusivity’s place in the Fashion Industry, Archie and I spoke of the recent controversy of brands such as Victoria’s Secret, who, as a brand built upon idolisation of unrealistic body types through their ‘Angel’ culture, recently faced backlash through their attempts to diversify. ‘I think for certain brands, a new attempt to diversify can often appear as tokenism and as disingenuous,’ said Archie, and, for a brand such as Victoria’s Secret, this very much seemed to be the case. For years the brand gained traction through their Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, in which their brand became synonymised with ethereal and unattainable beauty, showcased via their Angels. In this sense, as expressed by Archie, sometimes ‘anything other than a norm becomes a niche for a brand,’ and in this case, Victoria’s Secret new ‘niche,’ became one not of celebrating uniqueness and body positivity as it intended to do, but instead appeared as a superficial attempt to keep up with society’s call for an end to unrealistic body expectations. It became an appeasement to everything the brand originally seeked to disparage. Therefore, within the contemporary Fashion World it can appear as difficult to implement inclusivity and diversity authentically.
In consideration of this, the casting calls for Leeds RAG Fashion Show have evidently disregarded the toxic conventions of the Fashion world, and instead created a welcoming space where individuality is praised and encouraged. As the Fashion World continues on its long endeavour to diversify, Archie summarised the aspects of beauty overlooked, to him, are often the focal points of a model, ‘for example, someone might have beautiful eyes, and perhaps other aspects do not fit the traditional stereotypes of a model, but, when walking, all you can focus on is these eyes,’ and, therefore, their individual beauty becomes more powerful than any traditional norm. To further this, Archie emphasised that some of the most successful castings came from people just ‘being confident and commanding the space,’ and that a lot of people were ‘scouted,’ by the committee to just give it a go.
Fashion’s reductive conventions permeate a lot of people’s opinion on what it means to ‘look’ like a model and, therefore, it takes an organisation and event like the Leeds RAG Fashion Show to disregard such conventions and champion beauty and individuality through diversity and uniqueness. With this in mind, we look forward to the announcement of the 2024 Fashion Show’s theme and the performance of inclusive beauty ensured to be evident within the February show.
Words: Erin Adams, she/her