New York Fashion Week triggered a media frenzy this season with a series of progressive runway moments. At FTL Moda‘s fashion show, sponsored by Italy’s Fondazione Vertical, an organization that researches spinal cord injuries, we saw British personal trainer and amputee Jack Eyers on the catwalk. Before that, designer Carrie Hammer cast American Horror Story’s Jamie Brewer as part of her Role Models Not Runway Models campaign, securing the actress a place in history as the first woman with Downs syndrome to walk at New York Fashion Week. Those ground-breaking events—coupled with a string of multicultural model moments including the debut of Kanye West’s Adidas Originals collaboration*—in turn sparked articles declaring Fall 2015 the season of diversity. But a closer look at the runway numbers tells a different story.
After crunching the data from a sampling of 93 New York shows, comprised of both established industry leaders and emerging brands, we found that 77.4% of the 618 models were white. **Black models only accounted for roughly 8.7%, followed closely by Asian models at 8.5%. Latina models only made up 3.5%. The remaining racial makeup consisted of Middle Eastern models and models deemed “other,” or in this case, did not define themselves under one racial profile.
Comparatively, the numbers echo Spring 2015 with only incremental differences. Last season, there were 1.7 percentage points more white models (totaling 79.1%) and 1.8 percentage points fewer Latina models (totaling 1.7%). The variances in black and Asian models from season to season were less than 1 percentage point.
In our sample, Sophie Theallet, The Row, Milly by Michelle Smith and Monique Lhuillier landed at the bottom of the pack on diversity. Sophie Theallet came in at the lowest amongst her peers with a 5.3% diversity rating. Out of 19 models, only one woman was black. There were no additional models of color (MOC). At The Row, a repeat offender from Spring, two out of the 29 women were MOC, which shakes out to 6.9%; one black model and one Asian model were cast. Surprisingly, that’s double the minority models from last season. Milly looked fairly similar; out of 28 models, only only black model and one Asian model walked, giving the brand a diversity rating of 7.1%. And finally, Monique Lhuillier employed 36 models for her show—two of her models were Asian and one model was black, which makes her show 8.3% diverse.
Despite an overwhelmingly whitewashed season, a few designers bucked antiquated convention and promoted a more well-rounded troupe of models. Anna Sui made the cut for the four most diverse designers. Eleven of her 28 women were MOC (39.3%). She cast five Asian models, one Latina model, one Middle Eastern model and three models classified as “other.” London-based brand KTZ, making its New York Fashion Week debut, booked 16 MOC out of 39 (41%). That group included eight Asian models, four black models, three Latina models and one Middle Eastern. Misha Nonoo inched slightly ahead of KTZ for the second most diverse show in our sampling. Not only did a MOC open and close the show, but nine out of the 21 models (42.8%) were racially diverse. Four black models walked, along with four Asian models and one Latina model. Zac Posen, a helmsman for diverse runways, took top honors this season. Alek Wek opened his show and Naomi Campbell closed it. And over half of his catwalkers were MOC, bringing him to a diversity rating of 61.9%. Eight black models walked; so did three Asian models, one Latina model and one model classified as “other.”
As always, a handful of minority models faired well on the runway. Japanese model Mona Matsuoka, who you may know as the face of Kenzo’s Spring/Summer 2015 campaign, was cast in 14 shows, while Elle China‘s March 2015 cover girl Luping Wang notched 13. Rising star Binx Walton—she dominated the Spring/Summer campaigns, modeling for Fendi, Coach, Alexander Wang, DKNY and Hugo Boss—also walked 14 shows. But Prada muse and Givenchy’s Spring 2015 model select Mica Arganaraz set the bar for minorities. The Argentinian, who skipped New York and London for a breakout season in Europe last September, topped the runway charts at a staggering 21 shows.
Although these models have made great strides in the industry, Fashion Week’s white-streaked superhighway continues with diversity at a stand-still. Often, the finger-pointing begins in every direction, from the designer to the consumer, and eventually lands on fashion’s scapegoats: casting agents and model scouts. Earlier this year, we spoke with Mary Clarke, founder of Mother Model Management and the model scout that famously plucked Karlie Kloss from obscurity, who had a different take on the matter. “Through the years, we’ve found a variety of models that we thought would have an interest. It was 10,000 times harder to get people interested in the beautiful black girl. The industry dictates who becomes successful along with the criteria for what it is to be successful, not [the model scouts]. At the end of the day, it’s not the casting directors. It’s the designers who say here’s the aesthetic and the look. They have a lot of influence.”
Wherever fault may lie, there’s one thing we can all agree on: We can do better.
*Since we were unable to identify all of the models appearing in Kanye West’s Adidas Originals runway, the multicultural show was not included in our report findings.
**Models of color were categorized as those who appear to be nonwhite or of mixed backgrounds. Models included in the Latin category are classified as nonwhite Latins that do not appear to be strongly Afro-Latin.
- 10 Models That Dominated the Fall 2015 Runways in New York
- Fashion Week Spring 2015 Diversity Report: Still a Lot of Work Left to Do
- Diversity Report: Just How White Were 2014 Ad Campaigns This Year?
- Diversity Report: Fashion Magazine Covers Still Pretty White in 2014
With additional reporting by Elena Drogaytseva.