Having had a phone conversation with Caryn Franklin about a cause that she is so passionate about I couldn’t help but feel inspired. The zeal in which she speaks about this is infectious and leaves you wondering why you are not involved.

Diversity in fashion and on the runway is a message told proudly by ‘All Walks Beyond the Catwalk‘, a campaign that commenced in 2009 and involved the biggest names in fashion to work together to change our perceptions of beauty and the fashion model.

‘All Walks’ led by Franklin, Erin O’Connor and Debra Bourne is truly a testament to those behind it, and their great efforts to change dated beauty ideals with a more contemporary message that promotes a well considered and more realistic image of beauty.

Volt Café: What was ‘All Walks’ a response to?

Caryn Franklin: It was a response to a growing rigid ideal, a feminine ideal, one which we keep seeing in the media and in our fashion imagery. A very young, very thin, very pale catwalk model. We wanted to see other beauty ideals too. New Media means that catwalk imagery is now distributed much more prolifically. It’s on everyone’s desktop and therefore we’re seeing more of a repetition of this rigid ideal than we used to. Added to that there are now scientific studies to prove that young women feel undermined by the imagery they are seeing because it’s not realistic or respresentative enough and it’s unachievable, so as a result depression and self-harm are on the rise.

VC: There has been such a debate around this subject, women are aware that these images are constructed – yet despite this younger girls are still effected by them.

CF: Exactly! What I would say is you might be able to intellectualize something, you might be able to say that’s not real and intellectually you try and incorporate that. Yet it still doesn’t mean to say that you make an emotional and physical connection with the same piece of information… So you might go, yes these are unreal but I still don’t feel good enough, I wish I looked like that. And that’s not just young women, that’s all women. Because of the constant media pressure.

VC: So in terms of producing fashion imagery today, how should it be made and what should a creative keep in mind without restricting their visionary flair?

CF: I think any Creative should ask themselves, what is my opinion! Because I have a chance to construct imagery that will influence, so what do I want to say, that’s all really. Because a lot of imagery is constructed unthinkingly, people are just copying the format of what has gone before. A space where you can be creative is at an Art College. You can examine what has gone before and decide what you have to say about it, what my generation have to say about it and what am I going to convey?   There is already outmoded commentary so as a Creative you must think of how you are going to update that commentary. How they choose to do that is their business. ‘All Walks’ does not dictate anything. We are just asking be awake when you do it.

VC: Other than diversity in fashion what else should the industry be celebrating and educating us as Creatives about?

CF: The fashion industry is about clothes and bodies. The really important thing is that the fashion industry is aware of the space in which the consumer looks to them for information and for them to say we have a policy on clothes but we don’t have one on bodies… Well, it’s unpoliticized drivel to the extreme. When we look at bodies we are not just looking at shape or size, you’re looking at skin tone, you’re looking at the age and you’re looking at everything that a body can be. You could even go further and be looking at its health. Alexander McQueen is an example of someone beautifying women with disabilities. He famously sent a model down the runway who had a prosthetic leg and she glorified and beautified disability. She added to the commentary on what disability can look like in a really positive way. Because currently what we’ve got is visual commentary on what disability can look like and there is little grammar. So Creatives can go as far as they want. I think diversity covers everything.

VC: Normally we just use the term diversity in fashion to mean age, body size and ethnicity but it is a big part of our lives as human beings.

CF: And having a body!

VC: It’s something that we don’t normally confront or deal with. Now Caryn, as we all know change takes time but what are the things we can do to accelerate the process or the positive outcomes of ‘All Walks’?

CF: The key is for each individual to decide upon their agenda. It’s about stealth commotion really. Because people don’t like change, even Creatives who say that their entire reason for being is about change. They may say that, yet they are only talking about silhouettes, pattern cutting technique, fabric technology, they are not talking about cultural change. For the most part they’re serving traditional cultural messaging. So if you decide as a Creative that you are going to internalize an agenda that is about pushing forward a change in our perception of what a beautiful body is then you have to spot opportunities for yourself whether it be changing your reading matter, switching from the conversations that you have, the career paths that you choose, the imagery or the writing or the concepts that you send out into the world. It goes across the board and becomes your reference for working. You might think I’m not going to get this past I need to be clever here to stay in my job but hopefully you’ll feel confident enough to say I think the choice in models that are being put forward isn’t enough of a role model – she’s too thin and she’s too young. Could we use a model that has a more realistic and kind body shape because ultimately, we should be about being emotionally considerate in our practice, and the way you conduct yourself. We would never advocate that any body puts themselves in a position where they fear they could lose their job or not get a job in the first place. It has to be gentle little shifts.

VC: Maybe its about voicing opinions in a democratic manner, making sure that it is taken in the right way to promote positive change and not to express hostility towards other types of bodies or models?

CF: It might even be a suggested line up, suggesting that this line up might have some racial diversity is a great idea and any employer would receive that to mean that you are being conscious about the brand identity. When you feel more confident you could go further and suggest that this would be enhanced by perhaps using models that have some age diversity. Instead of a 16-year old model maybe use a model who is 20-plus or even older where the brand suits. 40/50/60 why not if they look cool. It’s all down to the individual.

VC: We have Fashion Week coming up, what can we expect from ‘All Walks’ during that time?

CF: ‘All Walks’ will be creating a big night at the National Portrait Gallery a week before London Fashion Week hoping to create beauty conversation. We hope we get some media interest in the message. We’re also working with i-D magazine to create 8 diverse images with young designers which i-D will promote online to initiate a debate. We are limited on what we can do as we’re a tiny organization. Everything we make happen we make happen for nothing and we have had to give up paid working jobs in order to deliver this. Anybody who wants to get on board and take this initiative forward by deciding that they too have an agenda around diversity, they’re already activating the ‘All Walks’ message. The active message is about diversity. Carry an emotionally considerate practice forward throughout your career, as best as you can.

Friday 11th February 2011 sees a special night at the National Portrait Gallery, amongst which there’s a debate with Erin O’Connor, Lorraine Candy, Lynne Featherstone, Linda Papadopoulos and Kiki Kendrick which will be filmed for London College of Fashion and will be accessible online. Chaired by Caryn Franklin.
‘Is Fashion the lens through which we evaluate identity?’
Ondaatje Wing Theatre
7.30 – 8.30PM
Limited tickets available from the Information Desk in the Ondaatje Wing from 6PM, distributed on a first come, first served basis.

Words by Nada Dahab

Natasha Ndlovu wears orange satin maxi dress by Matthew Williamson

Daphne Selfe wears dress by Vivienne Westwood Red Label
Shoes Vivienne Westwood for Melissa
Hosiery Wolford

Sheila Atim wears dress and patent shoes by Stella McCartney

Amira Ahmed wears dress and shoes by Osman Yousefzada

Marte Boneschansker wears neck piece and dress by Betty Jackson

Valerie Pain wears fine knit dress by Antonio Berardi
Shapewear slip from M&S

Naomi Shimada wears dress by Hussein Chalayan
Shapewear slip from M&S

Katie Parsons wears dress by Giles Deacon
Shapewear slip from M&S

Kirsty McLennan wears dress and harness by Alice Temperley
Shoes Christian Louboutin.
Shapewear slip from M&S

Photography Rankin

Assisted by Andrew Davies, Dom Storer, Rachell Smith, Damien Fry and Max Montgomery
Digi tech Mike Tinney
Styling Scott Clark
Assisted by Michael Williamson, Anna Hughes-Chamberlain and Joseph Kocharian
Hair Sacha Mascolo-Tarbuck and team for Toni and Guy
Make-up Kay Montano
Thanks to 12plus Model Management, Close Models, Profile Model Management, Models One and Tess Management


Caryn Franklin, Erin O'Connor, National Portrait Gallery, Rankin,