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It's Time To Rethink Fashion's Narrow Definition Of Nude

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Fashion has a problem with nudes. Not nudity (even a cursory glance at a glossy or fashion show will testify that prudishness is definitely not an issue) but nude as a colour, a shade, a casual description.

If you don't think it does, then consider this. Asked to think of the colour 'nude,' chances are you'd think of that peachy-pink-beige shade that the word has incorrectly become synonymous with. It's a very specific, one-note definition that should be multi-coloured and open to all (what is more universal than bare skin?). For many people, that peculiar plaster-like shade is no more relevant to their own skin tone than green or purple.

'It's not the term "nude" that bothers me, but rather the way the fashion industry has chosen to define it,' says the Ghanaian-American designer Jamela Acheampong. 'There are countless different skin tones across the globe yet, to this day, only a very limited range of complexions are given options when it comes to fashion.'

Indeed, the off-hand application of the word to that singular beige hue reveals a lot about fashion's white privilege. It's an issue that extends beyond language, to product availability. Until quite recently, those leg-lengthening 'nude' shoes and handy 'nude' underwear and hosiery - essential basics for millions of women - have only been widely and easily available for paler complexions.

Frustrated by this, Jamela set up her own line of shoes, Kahmune - a two-style collection of 'nude' shoes in a comprehensive colour palette, designed to suit myriad skin tones. 'I found it crazy that I was having to use search terms such as "nude for brown skin" or "nude for dark skin" when I had friends who could simply search "nude" and be met with hundreds of options,' she says. 'I noticed a huge gap in the market for a brand that catered to every woman's shade of nude with a strong focus on options for the large group of women who have been left out of the skin tone conversation.'

That conversation is obviously one people want to join in with - Jamela describes the response to Kahmune as 'absolutely amazing' (those two styles have grown to five, and the company has 15,000 global customers, from Paris to Lagos).

Slowly but surely, a shift is happening across the board. Make-up, hosiery and lingerie brands are expanding their colour palettes. Nubian Skin, which specialises in skin-tone underwear and hosiery for women of colour, employs the tagline 'A different kind of nude.' (Spanx, Wolfdord and Aubade are among the other brands that cater to different skin tones). ASOS, which already sells court shoes in four different 'nude' shades, introduced a new lingerie line earlier this year that comprised five different shades. Many styles have now sold out.

So, what about 'nude' clothing? There's no doubt that's also had a bad rap, albeit for different reasons - considered either too mother-of-the-bride (safe) or too Love Island (trashy). In other words, anti-cool.

Except, hang on a second. Thanks to Jacquemus and his sunbaked sands, The Row's sumptuous butterscotches and Stella McCartney's deep-deep chocolates, nudes of every fathomable shade ruled the spring/summer 2018 catwalks, all of them given a new vibrancy courtesy of sleek, unexpected cuts. It's out with the sew-me-in, Kim Kardashian body-con dresses and in with languid proportions, architectural cuts and utilitarian detail. Nude is suddenly what it always should have been: effortlessly sexy.

So, how do you wear the new nudes? Find a shade that suits your skin tone and wear head to toe for a grown-up take on naked dressing and a pleasingly 'Is she? Isn't she?' effect. Or try mixing different tonal shades. Consider also the advice of Net-A-Porter's fashion retail director Lisa Aiken, who advises thinking of them as your new neutrals and, as a softer alternative to black and white, teaming with pops of colour. Baby blues really offset deep browns, lilac adds oomph to caramels.

But, however you choose to work these new nudes, remember one thing: in the words of Christian Louboutin (who expanded his own line of nude shoes to include seven shades in 2017), 'Nude is not a colour, it's a concept.' Exactly.