Fashion is very much having a diversity moment.
Previously an industry exclusively reserved for promoting the careers of prepubescent, caucasian stick insects, designers and creatives are now increasingly looking to broaden their aesthetic horizons.
It’s undoubtedly a positive development but at times, it can feel a little forced and a little false.
Creatives know that the media will report on their shows and campaigns for featuring an alternative model…but whether the commitment runs any deeper is open to conjecture.
But one London-based agency is hoping to push their alternative options further into mainstream fashion consciousness.
The Anti-Agency was founded by Pandora Lennard and Lucy Greene in 2013 and they’ve just set up shop in NYC.
‘The agency is for people who couldâve been models and decided not to, for people who are too cool to be models and people with real lives in music, fashion, art, illustration and creative industries,’ they say on their site.
‘We’re here to provide casting solutions for companies and to promote people we believe in. If you want models that represent your target audience and that will be aspirational figures for your customer then these are the girls and boys for you.’
Both Lucy and Pandora had been working in the industry for years, and had come across several girls ‘who were unique and gorgeous creatives’.
‘They didn’t want to join conventional model agencies forÂ various reasons,’ Lucy tells Metro.co.uk.
‘Either they didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as models or they were far too flamboyant characters to be told whatÂ to do or how to be in terms of weight, hair, clothes.
‘We were fascinated by these girls; they were smart, and talented and unique and mostly defied all the model industry standards.’
While most agencies have strict requirements, with height and weight restrictions and specific rules about models changing their appearance, the Anti-AgencyÂ actively encourages their models to do and look as they please.
‘Our casting is more about breaking the mould and celebrating people for who they are, instead of trying to fit them into pre-existing standards,’ says Pandora.
While at theÂ agency, models are also helped to build a profile that they can use after their careers are over.
‘Modelling has a shelf life and it’s not a long-term viable career for most people,’ Pandora continues.
‘Nine times out of 10, the person we approach is a creative or academic and so one the first things we tell them is that we want to help them with their careers as well as get them jobs to financially support them along the way.’
What is ‘alternative modelling’ and what do you need to make it?
‘Alternative modelling is anyone who defies the cookie-cutter standard of the modelling industry,’ says Pandora.
The industry standard for women means being 5’9 or taller, and around a size 6.
‘For us, the most important thing is that the people we represent are inspiring.
‘We donât have restrictions on height, weight or ethnicity like most agencies. In our experience, weâve found that if someone is a uniqueÂ and interesting person they make for the best role models and the best brand ambassadors for campaigns.
‘All our models are outspoken, cool and this isÂ reflected in the way that they look and act on set.Â For us theÂ best people are the ones we find at exhibitions, gigs, shops we love- theyâre the person in the room you canât take your eyes off and want to know moreÂ about.’
When it comes to representing non-sample sized models, Pandora says that try to avoid labels.
‘We donât label [our talent as] plus-sized or sample-sized – theyâre just the size they are and they arenât willing to compromise on that for other people.’
So how does the Anti-Agency fit into this new era of mainstream diversity?
Isn’t there a worry that racial, size and gender-based tokenism is becoming a ‘trend’ – an inauthentic feature rather than a genuine belief that it’s beautiful to be black/plus-size/trans?
‘Sometimes it can feel inauthentic when itâs a one-off or feels like a publicity stunt,’ Pandora admits.
‘But theÂ industry has to start somewhere; if the response to these efforts to diversify is greeted with press and a positive response from the public then it will show brands that there is a long-term demand for diversity which we so desperately need.’
Pandora says that in the past four years since the agency’s been going, they’ve noticed their vision spreading further afield.
‘NormalÂ agencies who would never normally take on models like ours are starting to and as a result, there has definitely been an increase in diversity in the wayÂ models look and are perceived in fashion.’
But there’s still a long way to go to make casting less rigid.
‘Brands usually have an aesthetic that represents them whether thatâs “rock and roll” or “bohemian” or “minimalist” – so they try to keep their casting in line with this vision and what they think their consumer want.
‘However, that doesnât mean that the shows canât be diverse in size, ethnicity and personality. Sometimes we do find it hard to convince brands that this is where the future lies, that this is what people want to see in campaigns and runways.
‘But essentially, casting is a long process. It comes down to casting directors, the stylists of the shows, creative directors of the brands, what the public demand and what the press portray as popular.
‘It isnât any one person’s fault that casting is as rigid as it is – weâre all responsible for making these changes happen. If the public and the press demand change then there will be change.
‘Thatâs why itâs so important for companies like ours to keep campaigning for diversity in all forms and for the press and public to show their support.’