When it comes to diversity, fashion thinks it’s making headway: Elite Model Management just signed black, transgender, physically disabled model Aaron Philip; Vogue finally allowed an African-American photographer to shoot its September cover; Reformation is now making sexy, sustainably-minded dresses in up to a size 22; Maye Musk is a CoverGirl. But encouraging as they are, these headlines don’t always correspond with the hard, fast data: the number of plus-size models on the international runways, the number of transgender models booking big-budget campaigns.
Ahead, we examine the Fall 2018 ad campaign castings to see how much quantifiable progress the industry has made.
After evaluating 192 Fall 2018 fashion print ads, we found that of the 530 models who starred in campaigns, 34.5 percent were nonwhite, a 0.5 point improvement over Spring 2018’s 34 percent. Yet again, we can report that this season’s ads were the most racially diverse ever and that the number of nonwhite models used in campaigns has been on an upward trend since Spring 2016 (that’s six consecutive seasons).
In the past, the number of nonwhite models in ad campaigns has often lagged behind the more encouraging runway stats. This marks the third season in a row that fashion print ads have been more racially diverse than the latest runways, however. (For comparison, the Fall 2018 runways saw 32.5 percent nonwhite models cast — the highest runway percentage we’ve seen.)
True, half a percentage point is a pretty slim improvement — and given that racial representation in fashion imagery only increased by 1.2 points between the Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 ad seasons, some might even say the category is at a near standstill — but progress is progress.
Refreshingly, it wasn’t just nonwhite models that saw greater representation this ad season. Age and gender inclusivity are also on the rise.
Case in point: For the first time ever, a woman over the age of 40 (Amber Valletta) was one of the season’s most-booked print campaign models. Not only that, she topped the list along with 22-year-old Rianne van Rompaey, each landing seven campaigns. Fran Summers, Lexi Boling, Vittoria Ceretti and Bella Hadid shared second place with six campaigns each. Tied for third were Kaia Gerber, Natalie Westling and Gigi Hadid with five apiece. Rounding out the group was Edie Campbell, who starred in four print campaigns.
Of the top 10 models who landed the most Fall 2018 ad campaigns, two (20 percent) were nonwhite: the Hadid sisters, who are of Dutch-Palestinian descent. (Note: While some may question our decision to label the Hadids as nonwhite, given that they, admittedly, “pass” primarily as white, we hold that their genetics are not up for interpretation and one cannot dismiss another’s ethnic background based on the color of their skin. As mixed women, the Hadids are as representative of nonwhite models as, say, Teddy Quinlivan, who “passes” as female, is of transgender models. But that’s not to say we don’t find the lack of skin tone variation among the season’s top 10 models downright depressing.)
Plus-size models were the only group that didn’t benefit from greater representation this ad season. In fact, they hit a record low. After three seasons of plus-size castings remaining mostly static — with 10 in Spring 2018, Fall 2017 and Spring 2017, respectively — Fall 2018’s campaigns featured only seven models in the category. That’s the lowest turnout we’ve seen since we first began tracking this figure in 2015 (apart from the Spring 2016 ad season, which also had seven plus-size castings).
We say mostly static because, in terms of overall percentage, plus-size representation in campaigns has actually steadily declined over the past four seasons since peaking in Fall 2016 (with 14): in Spring 2017, 2.3 percent of castings went to plus-size models, falling to 2.2 percent in Fall 2017 and 1.9 percent in Spring 2018. And only 1.3 percent of Fall 2018’s ads used plus-size models, an all-time low. (Spring 2016’s seven castings accounted for 1.6 percent of that season’s total.)
Note that this retrogression in size-inclusive castings is not without precedent. Historically, the number of plus-size models cast in campaigns typically lags behind the runway stats and during the most recent runway season, we observed a similar dip: a total of 30 plus-size models walked the Fall 2018 runways, eight fewer than in Spring 2018. So, despite recent body-diversity wins (like Ashley Graham and Paloma Elsesser’s joint Vogue Arabia cover), it would appear the drop in body-positive runway castings was indicative of current industry preference.
Moving beyond the numbers themselves, it’s business as usual when it comes to the types of brands using plus-size models in their ads. While major fashion houses seem ready to look further afield when populating their runways, it’s still mainly mass-market brands that allow plus-size models access to big-budget campaigns. To wit: Fall 2018’s seven plus-size castings included Graham for (plus-centric label) Marina Rinaldi and David Yurman (the only plus-size casting by a luxury brand), Abrielle Stedman for Nordstrom, Marquita Pring for Anthropologie, Elsesser for 7 For All Mankind, Tara Lynn for Gloria Vanderbilt and violinist Ezinma for Gap.
Here’s one small triumph: not all of the plus models hired were white. As in Spring 2018, three women of color (Pring, Elsesser and Ezinma) made the cut.
Transgender and non-binary models had a relatively strong campaign season despite being the least-represented group for the third season in a row. As for what constitutes “strong”: only 6 of the 530 models to appear in the Fall 2018 ads — in other words, 1.1 percent — were openly trans and/or non-binary. That’s (sadly) the second-highest percentage of trans and/or non-binary campaign models we’ve seen to date. (The highest was in Fall 2017, which also had six such castings, equaling 1.3 percent of the season’s total.)
Sure, these campaign stats are underwhelming, but it’s encouraging that non-binary and transgender visibility seems to be improving across the board. (The opposite of what’s happening in the size diversity realm.) A record 64 openly trans and/or non-binary models walked the Fall 2018 runways, up from 49 the season before. And Fall 2018’s six trans and/or non-binary campaign stars mark a 50 percent increase over Spring 2018 when four were cast.
That said, it’s no surprise that most (four out of six) of the season’s trans and/or non-binary castings went to two young, white, thin models who primarily “pass” as female: Ariel Nicholson Murtagh and Teddy Quinlivan. Even when brands do offer trans and genderqueer models a seat at the table, they generally prefer those whose appearance adheres to traditional beauty norms.
Which brands made an effort? Murtagh starred in ads for Miu Miu and Proenza Schouler White Label (PSWL), Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez’s new essentials-focused extension brand. (The 17-year-old, who got her big break on the Calvin Klein runway, also stars in the ads for Raf Simons’ first “completely reimagined” collection for Calvin Klein Jeans, the label’s more accessibly priced diffusion line. But those images were released too late to be considered for our report.)
Quinlivan, a longtime friend and muse of Nicolas Ghesquière, posed for Louis Vuitton and Vera Wang. The former may have a history of unconventional casting — the brand’s Spring 2016 ads showed non-binary model Jaden Smith in men’s and women’s clothing — but Wang’s was actually the most gender-inclusive cast of Fall 2018. The iconic wedding dress designer’s Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin-lensed campaign starred six models, one of them trans (Quinlivan), another trans and non-binary (Oslo Grace).
The season’s sole nonwhite genderqueer casting came courtesy of Gap. Deaf model, visual artist and transgender activist Chella Man was one of many objectively cool creatives the struggling retailer hired to promote its new soft wear denim.
Models over the age of 50 were the most visible category this season with 18 women in the age group starring in a total of 11 campaigns. (And that’s not counting the work of 44-year-old Amber Valletta, who, with seven campaigns to her name, was one of the season’s most-booked models.) They accounted for 3.4 percent of castings, a 1.5 point improvement over Spring 2018 when only 10 women over age 50 were cast.
Technically, the Fall 2018 ad campaign season was the third most age-diverse we’ve seen since we began tracking the numbers in 2015. Second place goes to Fall 2016, which also had 18 over-50 model appearances, 4.1 percent of castings that season. Fall 2015 remains in first with 22 castings, 3.1 percent of the season’s total.
Another bit of encouraging news: luxury fashion houses, whose enthusiasm for older models seems to wax and wane from season to season, were responsible for the majority (13) of Fall 2018’s age-diverse castings. Saint Laurent’s Fall 2018 campaign was a welcome trip down memory lane for veteran Yves Saint Laurent fans — it starred the founder’s muse and self-proclaimed “twin” Betty Catroux, now in her 70s. Gucci hired Hollywood legend Faye Dunaway; Maye Musk, CoverGirl and mother to Elon, posed for Moncler; Proenza Schouler White Label enlisted rock icon Kim Gordon; Vivienne Westwood represented her eponymous label for the third consecutive season; Brandon Maxwell’s Fall 2018 ads starred the designer’s 81-year-old grandmother, Louise Johnson; Helmut Lang’s assortment of “Smart People Wear[ing] Helmut Lang” included seven models over the age of 50, making it by far the most age-inclusive campaign of the season.
As for the notable mass-market castings: Lauren Hutton, a modeling industry standard for more than three decades, posed for Anthropologie; British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes and actress Joan Collins for Kurt Geiger; artist and stylist Cathy Cooper for Nordstrom. Brands high end and high street seem to have recognized the power of friends and family casting and nostalgia as marketing techniques.
Still, the industry has a long way to go — not a single nonwhite, plus-size or transgender model over the age of 50 landed a Fall 2018 campaign. Also, the numbers of over-50 models in the seasonal ads tend to fluctuate wildly (Fall 2015’s ads had 22, Spring 2016’s 9, Fall 2016’s 18, Spring 2017’s 2, Fall 2017’s 14, Spring 2018’s 10), so there’s no telling whether this progress will hold.
MOST/LEAST DIVERSE CAMPAIGNS
Which Fall 2018 ads best exemplify fashion’s race problem? To start, neither Vivienne Westwood nor Elisabetta Franchi hired a single model of color — and each had a cast of four. (Though the former did feature one over-50 model, the designer herself.) David Yurman, Kurt Geiger and Proenza Schouler White Label all had fall campaigns that featured six models, five of them white. But their casts were diverse in other respects: Yurman hired a plus-size model, Geiger two over-50 models, PSWL one over-50 model and one trans model.
Notable brands like Balenciaga, Saint Laurent and CALVIN KLEIN 205W39NYC also missed the mark — each hired only one nonwhite model out of five. (Although, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, Saint Laurent’s ads were more age-inclusive than most.) While Balenciaga and Saint Laurent are notoriously exclusive — the former was at the center of February 2017’s Paris Fashion Week casting scandal, the latter famously did not include a single model of color in its campaigns between 2001 and 2015 — Calvin Klein Chief Creative Officer Raf Simons has repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to inclusion, making the brand’s whitewashed 205W39NYC ads all the more puzzling. (To play devil’s advocate, Simons did oversee three Calvin Klein campaigns this season and even at first glance, the newly released denim ads are noticeably diverse.)
Even more shocking, Marc Jacobs failed at racial representation this season with only two out of nine nonwhite castings. Given that he’s normally responsible for the seasons’ most inclusive runways and ad campaigns, this is highly unsettling. If the industry’s most influential designers aren’t moving with the times, who will?
Now for the fun part — the list of brands that did champion racial diversity in their campaigns. Leading the charge was United Colors of Benetton, which cast 82 percent nonwhite models in its Fall 2018 campaign. Fendi, DKNY and Gap all hired three out of four (75 percent) models of color; Mango and Dolce & Gabbana, two brands that made it to our whitewashed list as recently as last season, cast 60 percent models of color, as did Anthropologie.
Half of the models in the H&M, 7 For All Mankind, Coach, Levi’s, Salvatore Ferragamo and Holt Renfrew fall ads were of color. So were 43 percent of those photographed for Chanel, Emporio Armani and Juicy Couture. Moncler, Hugo Boss BOSS and Moschino all hired 40 percent models of color. That’s above average, but in the case of Moschino, not as good as last season when all five of its campaign stars were of color.
Last but not least, we have Versace, which featured 15 out of 38 (40 percent) nonwhite models, a stark contrast from Spring 2018 when the Italian fashion house hired only 2 out of 12 racial minorities, producing some of the season’s whitest ads.
Per usual, it was mainly mass-market brands — Gap, Nordstrom, 7 For All Mankind, Anthropologie — that presented the most all-around inclusive campaigns of the season, partly due to their friends and family casting strategies.
Anthropologie’s ads featured not only models and influencers of color, but also a range of ages and body sizes. Titled “Portrait of a Woman,” the campaign starred models Marquita Pring and Lauren Hutton, Anthropologie co-president Hillary Super, food designer Laila Gohar and artist Cleo Wade.
Nordstrom’s fall campaign, “The Shape of Fashion,” was 33 percent racially diverse and featured one over-50 model (Cathy Cooper) and one plus-size model (Abrielle Stedman). And that’s saying nothing of the models who weren’t quite “plus-size” or 50.
7 For All Mankind’s campaign also featured a range of skin tones and sizes — it starred Paloma Elsesser, Stella Maxwell, singer Arlissa and stylist Pernille Teisbaek. Meanwhile, Gap was the only brand to hire a transgender model of color (Chella Man) and a plus-size model of color (Ezinma), displaying an appreciation for intersectionality rarely seen among major fashion brands.
All in all, we saw a tiny bit of progress in the realm of racial, age and gender representation, but there’s still a long way to go, especially when it comes to size diversity. (But who knows? Next time around it could be another category that drops off — we’re stuck in a two-steps-forward, one-step-back holding pattern.)
On the bright side, Fall 2018 did have a few of the kinds of across-the-board diverse ads fans of fashion have long been dying to see (Gap, Versace). To actually solve fashion’s diversity problem, we’d need companies like these to continually practice inclusive casting season after season. Or we could draw up an inclusion rider.
Additional reporting by Mark E.
Only women were included in the data of this report. Models of color were categorized as those of nonwhite or mixed backgrounds. The term “model” includes celebrities and influencers, sometimes referred to as nonmodels. Nonmodels were not included in our plus-size data.