how many models of colour walked during nyfw?
hood by air spring/summer 16
i-D favorite Lineisy Montero seemed to walk every show in New York this season. Praise! (In fact, she graced 23 different runways). Some of the most buzzed-about new discoveries were California babes of colour Selena Forrest and Shelby Hayes, who both walked their first-ever runway at Proenza. (Forrest opened, nbd.) And many of the most hyped shows - from Hood By Air to Gypsy Sport to Yeezy 2 - were by designers (notably, of colour themselves) who reliably include a diverse spectrum of models, and who seemed to do so again for spring/summer 16. But, we wondered, were there actually more models of colour on the runway this season than last?
And so we counted. Specifically, we tallied - in a (disclaimer!) exhaustive but highly unscientific process - the number of models of colour, including Asian, Latina and mix-raced models, in every show we attended and reported on for the i-D site.
Of the 26 runway shows i-D covered this season, 19 included a higher percentage of models of colour than they did last season. Which sounds great and is great. But that still doesn't mean that all of the percentages were high -- just comparatively higher than they were for those same shows in February. The percentages ranged from 80% non-white models at the high end (yes Chromat!) to just 12% at the lowest (only 4 out of 32 models at one show). Here are the top-tier performers:
Gypsy Sport 68%
Hood By Air 62%
Creatures of the Wind 40%
Opening Ceremony 33%
Overall, the median percentage of models of colour was 25%. Which, if you consider that 22.2% of the United States population is non-white, appears to be an all-out win. Take a minute to enjoy that surprise. Then remember: That was a sampling of 26 shows from a calendar of many, many more. And again, that median takes into account both extreme highs and extreme lows. BUT yes to team America for pushing it up from the fall/winter 15 median of 21%.
Diversity on the catwalk has been a hot topic for the past few seasons. And this womenswear week, following on from the noticeably diverse New York men's week in June, was being closely watched. On September 3, the CFDA's Steven Kolb and Diane Von Furstenberg sent an email to the organization's members reminding them of the need for diversity. At the end of a memo about hiring healthy models, they wrote, "Let's remember that American fashion champions diversity [...] Let's collectively do the right thing and set an example." And it looked like designers paid attention.
But as Vanessa Friedman wrote in the New York Times earlier this year, "In many ways, the situation on the runway simply reflects an even more extreme situation in the power structure of the industry itself." She pointed out that of the Council of Fashion Designers of America's 470 members, only approximately 12 are African-American.
Halfway through the spring/summer 16 shows, Bethann Hardison, one of NYC's most outspoken advocates for runway diversity (and a pioneering black model herself), spoke on a panel at NYFW HQ. Addressing race on the runway, she echoed Kolb and Von Furstenberg's sentiment that fashion needs to set the right example: "I'm concerned about the runways because that's where the ideas are introduced, from the silhouettes, the colours, the textiles, and the girls and the guys - it all happens there first."
Hardison also reminded her audience that while things have improved, we need to keep working at it: "I noticed that when I took my foot off the gas for about three years, everything went completely backwards. Now I realize it's got to stay on. I've gotta keep calling people out. You gotta keep nudging them."
This season in New York it seemed like Hardison's and others' push for dialog and change was beginning to work - in terms of racial diversity but also in so far as the shows embraced a spectrum of different sizes, genders and sexualities. Gogo Graham, possibly New York's first all-trans brand, presented its spring collection at a wine-fueled show the Ace Hotel. Ashley Graham unveiled her plus-size lingerie line and walked the runway. And it doesn't get more high profile than the voluptuous Beth Ditto's show-stealing appearance at Marc Jacobs. But let's keep nudging.
Text Alice Newell-Hanson
Photography Jason Lloyd-Evans