Opinion | Sinead O’Dwyer’s show at London Fashion Week shows that diversity in high fashion is important

By Kelly Xiong, Staff Columnist

As London Fashion Week came to an end, one show had people talking — Sinéad O’Dwyer’s

The show was incredibly diverse, featuring models of all sizes and races — something underrepresented in luxury fashion. There was even a model who went down the catwalk in a wheelchair. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen models size 14 and up showcased, and I’ve watched a lot of shows. Needless to say, it sparked a lot of conversation — good and bad. 

British Vogue posted clips of the show on their TikTok, which received mixed reactions in the comment section. Beauty news outlets such as Glamour UK loved O’Dwyer’s idea, but some of their followers and people in their comments did not. 

While some viewers were excited to see more diversity on the runway, others felt that the quality of the show was lacking. People commented that the models didn’t look like “typical” models, and criticized their walk. One TikTok user commented, “They all look absolutely stunning but their model walk is extremely lacking.” Many comments were reminiscent of the “Bring back the 90’s models” argument — but that’s precisely the point. They’re not supermodels, they’re normal people like you and me with normal bodies. And that’s what O’Dwyer’s show was all about.

This idea that models must look and act a certain way exemplifies the exclusivity of high fashion. Luxury and high fashion usually aren’t spaces where models who aren’t size zero with long legs and a power walk can exist. When we see people on the catwalk that look different than the traditional model image, we often see them as “other” instead of embracing the inclusive and diverse representation they bring to global fashion — hence the negative comments about O’Dwyer’s show. 

O’Dwyer said she wants to make luxury fashion more accessible, because she believes that all bodies should be celebrated and loved. But it’s hard for the industry — which has historically exclusively used thin body types to style and shape clothes — to break out of this mold. High fashion excludes a lot of people from modeling, meaning we often don’t see bodies that represent all people. 

O’Dwyer makes it clear that each piece she creates is made for the person wearing it. That’s a lot more effort and work when you can’t go off of standard measurement. O’Dwyer is thinking of inclusion from the very start rather than trying to squeeze a bigger model into a small outfit. Plus sizes from Savage x Fenty by Rihanna, an underwear and lingerie brand, also are clearly designed with the purpose of supporting larger breasts and bodies. 

While few designers have tried to include more diverse models, some are making an effort. For example, Di Petsa’s models in their fall 2023 ready-to-wear collection featured many people of color as well as plus-sized and pregnant models. Valentino also included models of various races and body sizes at their fall 2022 couture show, proving that beauty can and does come in all sizes. 

O’Dwyer’s show is how I think diversity in high fashion should be executed. Designers make the clothes to fit the model rather than making the model fit the clothes, and use models who have the bodies of real people — not a sample size. When everything is centered around how pieces should look on this one body type, it obviously won’t look as good when someone with a different body type wears it — because the original designers probably had no intention of having them wear it in the first place. 

Inclusivity and size diversity are still new in luxury and high fashion. “Plus-size” in the fashion industry only recently expanded to include women who are sizes 12 to 14. In the past, it generally referred to anyone who was over a size six. Meanwhile, the average size of women in the United States is 16 to 18. 

Hopefully, as more designers and brands decide to break out of the one-size-fits-all-shell, we can start to see luxury fashion on all bodies. 

Kelly Xiong writes primarily about personal health and wellness. Write to her at [email protected].