Diversity in fashion seems like one of the industry’s longest running battles; it feels like every season, we discuss how much progress has been made and how much more we need to see. For the spring 2017 shows in New York, London, Milan, and Paris, this season proved to be the most diverse yet. But let’s not get too excited just yet. There’s still quite a lot of progress to be made.
According to the Fashion Spot’s diversity report, about 25.4% of the 8,832 model appearances this season were models of color. Looking more closely, that’s 10.33% black models, 7% Asian models, 3.36% Latina models, 0.4% Middle Eastern, and 4.27% “other.” So, white models still made up about 74.65% of runway bookings. Looking at body type, we saw 16 “plus-sized” models on the runway. Though a slight improvement, it’s still not great, especially considering these appearances were only in New York. Meanwhile, 10 transgender models appeared on the runways, while 13 models above the age of 50 appeared on this season’s runways, as well, marking pretty big improvements compared to recent years.
Look, we’d be stupid not to be happy about this progress, as minuscule as it may be. Many brands have put the days of all-white, cis, young, ultra-thin models behind them in favor of a more worldly, realistic view of who buys and wears high fashion goods (spoiler alert: it’s ALL women). There’s been less tokenism and far more authentic representation of models of color than in several years, with major labels showing a wide range of clientele that they can be beautiful in their items no matter what their background. We have to commend the labels that really went above and beyond this season: despite a polarizing show, Yeezy’s cast was 97% models of color, while we saw 82% at Kimora Lee Simmons, 75% at Ashish, 69% at Brandon Maxwell, and 67% at Telfar. Meanwhile, big brands like Saint Laurent (under the new creative direction of Anthony Vaccarello), Hood By Air, and Balmain were increasingly diverse in terms of multiethnic castings. Tome and Bottega Veneta were fairly positive, too, featuring a variety of women of color alongside women above 50, a demographic that still continues to buy luxury fashion despite a lack of representation. Christian Siriano earned points for inclusive casting with a series of women of various body types. And although Chromat went down to 65% models of color from last season, the label’s message of female empowerment was still loud and clear, featuring a cast that was ethnically diverse, body-positive, and even included some typically underrepresented trans models.
But let’s not get too comfortable. These numbers still aren’t indicative of the world in which we live. Women of various ethnicities, body types, ages, and gender identities consume high fashion and are involved in the creative process behind the scenes; these women still aren’t nearly represented as much as they could be, and we’ve still got quite a long way to go. Major labels like The Row and Junya Watanabe still consistently exclude nonwhite models from their lineups, and other major houses still practice token casting or book only the fairest-skinned most white-passing girls. While we could simply high-five designers for their efforts this season, we should rather tell them, “this is an improvement, but let’s go even further down this path next time.” Unless the topic of equal representation is consistently discussed, people may lose focus, reverting back to the dark times of years past. Small victories are important, and this season was – relatively speaking – a great success in terms of diversity on the runways. But this ongoing battle shouldn’t stop just because of a few baby steps forward; let’s keep it up until more major fashion houses proportionately represent the women of the world we live in.
Fashion has the potential to empower women, allowing them to live a fantasy or enhance their every day life. But this can only be possible if ALL women are included.
Feature photo courtesy Getty Images.