We knew heading into the Spring 2021 season that things would look a bit different. Thanks to the ongoing pandemic, pulling off traditional runway shows became a whole lot trickier. For some designers, the risks outweighed the benefits. Others opted to showcase their wares in other formats, like lookbooks and video presentations. All of these adjustments definitely had an impact on our diversity findings. Some for the better, others not so much.
After reviewing 287 model appearances across 48 “shows,” New York Fashion Week Spring 2021 saw a pretty significant bump in racial diversity. This season boasted 57.1 percent models of color way up from Fall 2020’s 43.6 percent. The increase may be explained by the decrease in designers showing in New York this season. Or the fact that the fashion world suddenly grew a conscience after social injustice found its way back into the spotlight. (We hope neither is the main motivator since we’re looking for long-lasting diversity, not temporary appeasement.)
Whatever the reason, Spring 2021 is now New York’s most racially diverse season since we started keeping track during the Spring 2015 season. While we’ll take what we can get, we’re worried that come Fall 2021, we’ll see a swing back in the other direction.
We’re happy to report that the top model of New York Fashion Week Spring 2021 is a woman of color. Afro-Dominican beauty Annibelis Baez appeared in four shows. (Compare that with last season when top South Korean model and street style star Sora Choi, British-Moroccan beauty Nora Attal, the United States’ own Abby Champion, U.K. native Lara Mullen, familiar French face Cyrielle Lalande, Josefine Lynderup from Denmark and Chinese model Yilan Hua all tied for the top spot by walking in 11 shows.)
Sasha Knysh scored the second spot appearing in a grand total of three shows. She and Baez both walked for Jason Wu and Ulla Johnson. Baez also represented R13 and Theory, while Knysh modeled for Anna Sui.
Once again, size, age and gender representation was missing from the top models list.
Sadly, plus-size representation dipped from last season. For Spring 2021, there were only 12 plus-size model appearances. That’s down from 27 for Fall 2020. And way down from Spring 2020 when a record 68 plus-size models took part.
And those 12 appearances were only spread across five shows. Alva Claire, Kimberly Drew and Precious Okoyomon were cast by Collina Strada. Ingrid Medeiros, Kylie Frink, Lauren Chan (who also popped up at Veronica Beard) and Sabina Karlsson walked for Christian Siriano. Over at Christian Cowan it was Jari Jones and Rachel Cargle. Maya Finoh for Chromat and Paloma Elsesser for Eckhaus Latta finish off the list.
The good news? A majority of plus-size castings (9 out of 12) went to models of color. Jones is also transgender so there was crossover appeal.
Transgender and non-binary models only saw a slight uptick in representation for Spring 2021. The total rose from 10 for Fall 2020 to 11 in Spring 2021. Still, it pales in comparison to Spring 2020’s 36.
Aaron Philip represented Collina Strada. Amanda Lepore, Isis King, Jari Jones and Teddy Quinlivan were hired by Christian Cowan. Jason Wu tapped Ariel Nicholson and Indya Moore. R13 enlisted Ella Snyder, Kim Shui picked Fabiana Montenegro, Eckhaus Latta had Hari Nef and Maya Mones modeled for Chromat.
Three drag queens were also booked this season. Christian Cowan had Symone and Violet Chachki. Collina Strada hired West Dakota.
It was almost a 50/50 split between white and nonwhite models. Even more encouraging is the fact that Lepore also falls into the age category and Jones is a plus-size model.
Only four over 50 models were cast for Spring 2021. That’s way down from 10 just a season ago. Supermodel Helena Christensen modeled for Christian Cowan. As did Amanda Lepore and Susanne Bartsch. Collina Strada enlisted Kathleen Engman.
As if only four hires wasn’t depressing enough, all four were white. One positive? Lepore is also transgender.
MOST AND LEAST DIVERSE SHOWS
We were pleasantly surprised to see one of last season’s least diverse shows move into the most diverse category. Cinq à Sept went from 24 percent for Fall 2020 to 100 percent for Spring 2021. Others reaching the 100 percent diversity mark include Adeam, Thakoon, Pamella Roland, Zero + Maria Cornejo, Bibhu Mohapatra, Chromat and Tomo Koizumi. With Thakoon, Pamella Roland and Zero + Maria Cornejo each only booking one model.
Perhaps more telling is the latest list of least diverse shows. Snow Xue Gao, Marina Moscone, Claudia Li, Bevza, Libertine, Dennis Basso, Nicholas K and Katie Gallagher opted for zero models of color.
In closing, only time will tell if the gains and losses of New York’s Spring 2021 season indicate any real change. One of the most encouraging signs? Two disabled models were cast. Emily Barker and Aaron Philip appeared for Collina Strada. But we’ll always have to associate the pandemic and civil unrest with this season so it may not fall in line with ones to come. We just have to remain positive and diligent to ensure real change occurs.
Additional reporting by Mark E.
Only women and non-binary models are included in this data. Models of color are categorized as those who are nonwhite or of mixed backgrounds.