Why We Need to Stop Glorifying 'The Most Diverse Fashion Season Ever'

 Photographed by Phil Oh

Photographed by Phil Oh

With the Fall 2018 shows kicking off today, there has been speculation surrounding the fate of NYFW, how the shows will top last season, and who can bring the greatest shock value to the runways. Last season, Spring 2018 was celebrated across various publications as the “most diverse season yet,” however, it was crippled by the subtext “but there is still a long way to go.”  Cultural currency is shifting in the age of social media, and legacy brands are trying their best to align with the times.  However, fashion’s deep-seated history with racism still lingers in model protests, in the Harlem store that Gucci is reopening for Dapper Dan since having it shut down in the ‘90s, and in Fashion Week invitations.  In fact, just a few weeks ago, an inside joke shared between Ulyana Sergeenko and Miroslava Duma with a Paris Couture week invitation that read “To my n*ggas in Paris,” begs the question ‘How many brown people are involved in Fashion Month?”  Though we don’t have access to each show's guest list, we can look to the models who walked last season.  From the 7,790 models who walked major shows in Spring 2018, we examined the amount of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and South Asian models represented on the runways.

The Modern-Day Battle of Versailles

NYFW has proven itself a change maker when it comes to diversity in fashion, and with 27% of brown models walking the runway, this season was no different.  This could be attributed to the many changes surrounding fashion week, as many designers have been fleeing New York for Paris—making room for young emerging designers to showcase their talent.  In New York, Telfar (winner of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award for Emerging Talent) hosted an intimate show that featured only black models.  Chromat, a champion for body positivity, and VFiles showed 63% and 61% of brown models respectively.  Tom Ford’s return to NYFW did not disappoint.  Not only did his strong-shouldered silhouettes encapsulate the crowd but he sent a slew of models down the runway with an array of skin tones and hair textures—Hiandra Martinez donned a textured coif, Joan Smalls sported a faux short crop, Mayowa Nicholas’s deep melanin melted into orange leather, and Binx Walton’s sultry walk opened and closed the show.  Ford emerged as one of the only luxury brands to have a at least 50% of brown models walk his runway this season.

 Vogue Runway

Vogue Runway

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Paris Fashion Week consisted of 21% of brown models with Gypsy Sport (83%), Jacquemus (57%), and Koché (53%) having the most color diverse runways.  London trailed behind with 18% of brown models on the runway with House of Holland (42%), Ashish (40%), and Molly Goddard (38%) leading the pack.  Brands like Christopher Kane, Ralph & Russo, and David Koma were amongst the least diverse brands with more than 90% of non-hispanic white models gracing their runways. Emilio Pucci (43%), Moschino (36%), and Stella Jean (32%) had the most diversity in the least diverse city, Milan (16%).

Legacy Brands as Laggards

Diversity is to emerging designers as technology is to millennials.   While older fashion brands often treat diversity as an afterthought, emerging designers like Telfar, Gypsy Sport, and Chromat have diversity embedded in their DNA.  Luxury brands are struggling to follow suit and casting is seemingly a chore for brands who thrived long before laws of equality were set in place.  In fact, celebrating Louis Vuitton for opening with a Black model for the first time in the brand’s 163-year history (although the show itself only featured 8 brown models) is counterproductive.  Speculations surrounding Gucci’s authenticity when they teased auditions for their all-black Pre-Fall 2017 campaign that featured models dancing minstrel-style in front of a white casting director were juxtaposed by the 10% of the 100 models who walked the brand’s Spring 2018 runway.  Milan’s glaring color problem is largely in fact because major shows (Fendi, Prada, Versace, and Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, and Armani) all featured less than 30% of brown models on their runways.

 Getty Images

Getty Images

Fashion’s Appropriation Problem Continues

 Vogue Runway

Vogue Runway

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Though Thom Browne’s signature doobie hairstyle and teardrops on the Spring 2018 runway may be looked over on first notice, other shows featured disturbingly offensive statements.  For instance, Comme des Garçons featured not one model of color in the show, however each look featured embarrassing renditions of braids, afros, and high-top fades achieved from kinky wigs—just a degree shy of blackface.  Stella McCartney’s Spring 2018 runway came under fire for its use of traditional Ankara prints—none of which were featured on the 6 brown models who walked the show.     

Fashion has traditionally been an industry built on nepotism and afforded to the wealthy. Older brands have the capital and the legacy to affect change, though it may take for social media-era designers to become the norm and not the exception.  With African-American spending power set to reach $1.5 trillion by 2021 and the non-white Hispanic population rapidly expanding, fashion will have to address colorism more than sticking a few black or brown faces on the catwalk.  It will have to have to be engrained in the fibers of a brand—from design to production to marketing.  It will take for us to stop praising brands for doing the bare minimum and for heightening our expectations.