Why Paloma Elsesser Felt a Responsibility to Return to Fashion Week

The response I got from stepping away for a season was interesting. A lot of people asked, “Where were you?”, and said that the lack of diversity across all shows was felt. I was hopeful that we would see continued progress, but there has been an unapologetic propensity towards thinness. The runway has always been the truest expression of where fashion exists. We take the sartorial temperature twice a year, and it is undeniable that we are steadily slipping backwards when it comes to representation. We are contending with erasure on all fronts. We have to respond with urgency. If we do not call this out, taking this season as both an opportunity and an invitation to ask for increasing diversity, it’ll die out.

If fashion is both in pursuit of and in the business of fantasy, then why is the industry’s version of fantasy the same singular view of beauty we have held for decades? And just as importantly, what are we telling people, especially young people, about themselves when this is our only narrative? I hear the word empowerment frequently used to describe a collection and the impact it is meant to have on the women wearing it, and for me, diversity is integral to that show of strength.

This month, I am back at fashion week, recovered from my time away and doing the full circuit: there has been no easing back in. At times I desired to have a season or a return the same way that my straight-sized contemporaries have when they’ve taken a season off—returning in a way that can be very poignant and concise. However in light of the disappearing diversity on runways, I feel more called to mobilize than ever. To show up and create a continued conversation for others to come with me, an undeniable momentum that keeps growing.

I love fashion, adding a joking caveat that that’s the problem. I love its energy, the fantasy found in a moment, and all the ways that we can express ourselves in these exceptional forms. My hope is that this season is an invitation, a christening, and a call to action. If we step backwards, fashion becomes a derivative of what it’s actually destined to be, which is not one body or one identity. At its best, it’s an expression of all forms.

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