How Did New York Fashion Week's 116 Shows Treat Models Of Color?

Everyone's been talking about whether this season, designers and casting directors would be putting more faces of color in their runway lineups. Well! We have the facts and we're voting a qualified yes. Let's explore.

There were 116 labels that held shows at the recently ended New York fashion week; that's 3,697 spots in runway and presentation lineups. Of those, 668 were given to models of color — which, at just over 18%, is 6% better than one year ago. (And certainly better than in the fall of 2007, when WWD reported that one-third of the New York shows used no models of color at all.)

How Did New York Fashion Week's 116 Shows Treat Models Of Color?

The 668 spots that went to models of color were divided as follows:

How Did New York Fashion Week's 116 Shows Treat Models Of Color?


Legend
Yellow = Black models
Red = Asian models
Blue = Latina models
Green= Other ethnicities

Last February, the biggest slice of runway spots for models of color — 41% — went to Asian girls, and only 38% of the models of color used were black.

I also noted when opening and closing spots in runway shows were given to models of color, since opening or closing a show is considered such a coup. Designers choose opening and closing models who will set the tone for their vision of the season, and being picked for the position is a big deal within the fashion industry. Because of the economy, there were an unusually high number of static presentations this season since they are cheaper to mount than runway shows, and tableaux vivants of models do not have opening or closing positions. Unfortunately I didn't keep track of exactly how many presentations there were vs. actual shows, so you'll have to take my best estimate that there were around 160 opening and closing spots up for grabs in New York this season. Of those, Latina models opened or closed 5 times, Asian models opened or closed 3 times, and black models opened or closed 10 times.

The fact that black models became not only the largest single ethnic group on the runways — save for whites — and the non-white ethnic group who closed and opened the most shows definitely demonstrates that the diversity message people like Bethann Hardison and Diane von Furstenberg have been propounding for years now is at last getting through.

The news is not, however, all positive. There were 7 shows that had no models of color at all. Those designers were: Altuzarra, Davidelfin, Jenni Kayne, Julian Louie, Koi Suwannagate, Temperley London, Vera Wang Lavender Label.

And there were 19 shows that had some models of color, but no black models. They were: Alexandre Herchcovitz, Behnaz Sarafpour, Costello Tagliapietra, Erin Fetherston, Halston, Marchesa, Max Azria, Milly, Miss Sixty, Monique Lhuillier, Nicole Miller, Philosophy, Reem Acra, Tibi, TSE, United Bamboo, Vena Cava, VPL, Vivienne Tam.

The 116 designer shows I looked at break down in terms of diversity as follows:

How Did New York Fashion Week's 116 Shows Treat Models Of Color?


Legend:

Blue = Shows with 0 models of color

Red = Shows whose casts included 1-9% models of color (this slice includes the designers BCBG Max Azria, Calvin Klein, Cynthia Rowley, Donna Karan, Erin Fetherston, Hervé Leger by Max Azria, Jill Stuart, Marchesa, Matthew Williamson, Max Azria, Miss Sixty, Monique Lhuillier, Narciso Rodriguez, Phi, Philosophy, Proenza Schouler, Reem Acra, Rodarte, Tuleh, Vivienne Tam)

Yellow = Shows whose casts included 10-19% models of color (this slice includes the designers Alexander Wang, Anna Sui, Behnaz Sarafpour, Carolina Herrera, Derek Lam, DKNY, Doo.Ri, Jonathan Saunders, L'Wren Scott, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Nicole Miller, Rebecca Taylor, Richard Chai, Thakoon, Tommy Hilfiger, Zac Posen)

Green = Shows whose casts included 20-29% models of color (this slice includes the designers 3.1 Philip Lim, Betsey Johnson, Diesel Black Gold, Isaac Mizrahi, Jason Wu, Lacoste, Malandrino, Nanette Lepore, Ohne Titel, Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang)

Purple = Shows whose casts included 30-39% models of color (this slice includes the designers Badgley Mishka, Diane von Furstenberg, Tory Burch, Yigal Azrouël)

Orange = Shows whose casts included 40-49% models of color (this slice includes the designer Oscar de la Renta)

Brown = Shows whose casts included 50-59% models of color (this slice includes the designers Ports 1961, Rachel Roy, Victoria Beckham)

Gray = Shows whose casts included 60% or more models of color (this slice comprises the designers Sophie Theallet and Tracy Reese)

For purposes of comparison, the U.S. Census reported in 2006 that this country is just under 74% white — so an 18% non-white runway population is still well below what might be considered truly representative. But New York fashion week this season was also closer to representative of overall U.S. diversity than it has ever been since this sort of data started being kept.

Here are the raw data for 25 of the top shows:

3.1 Philip Lim
9 runway spots to models of color / 41 total runway spots
21% of runway spots to models of color
Wanessa Milhomem (Latina)
Tao Okamoto (Asian, O)
Emma Pei (Asian)
Hyoni Kang (Asian)
Liu Wen (Asian)
Han Jin (Asian)
Du Juan (Asian)
Gracie Carvalho (Black)
Georgie Badiel (Black)

Alexander Wang
4/40
10%
Liu Wen (Asian)
Lakshmi Menon (Asian)
Tao Okamoto (Asian)
Jourdan Dunn (Black)

Anna Sui
6/50
12%
Liu Wen (Asian, 2 looks)
Du Juan (Asian, 2 looks)
Jourdan Dunn (Black, 2 looks)

Badgley Mishka
11/33
33%
Flavia de Oliveira (Latina, 2 looks)
Bruna Tenorio (Latina, 2 looks)
Lakshmi Menon (Asian, 3 looks)
Hyoni Kang (Asian, 2 looks)
Sessilee Lopez (Black, 2 looks, C)

Calvin Klein
1/35
3%
Lyndsey Scott (Black)

Carolina Herrera
5/34
14%
Lakshmi Menon (Asian)
Du Juan (Asian)
Liu Wen (Asian)
Jourdan Dunn (Black)
Gracie Carvalho (Black)

Diane von Furstenberg
12/39
31%
Caroline Ribeiro (Latina)
Bruna Tenorio (Latina)
Flavia de Oliveira (Latina)
Du Juan (Asian)
Emma Pei (Asian)
Han Jin (Asian)
Lakshmi Menon (Asian)
Sessilee Lopez (Black)
Chanel Iman (Black)
Arlenis Sosa (Black)
Gracie Carvalho (Black)
Georgie Badiel (Black)

Donna Karan
3/45
7%
Jourdan Dunn (Black, 2 looks)
Arlenis Sosa (Black)

Isaac Mizrahi
9/40
23%
Tao Okamoto (Asian)
Aminata Niaria (Black, 2 looks)
Arlenis Sosa (Black, 2 looks)
Georgie Badiel (Black, 2 looks)
Sessilee Lopez (Black)
Jourdan Dunn (Black)

Jason Wu
10/35
29%
Lakshmi Menon (Asian, 2 looks)
Liu Wen (Asian, 2 looks)
Du Juan (Asian)
Jourdan Dunn (Black, 2 looks, O)
Arlenis Sosa (Black)
Sessilee Lopez (Black)
Chanel Iman (Black)

Malandrino
12/47
26%
Joan Smalls (Latina)
Eugenia Mandzhieva (Asian, 3 looks)
Emma Pei (Asian, 2 looks)
Georgie Badiel (Black)
Aminata Niaria (Black)
Rahma Mohamed (Black)
Sessilee Lopez (Black, 3 looks)

Marc Jacobs
10/60
17%
Daiane Conterato (Latina)
Bruna Tenorio (Latina)
Hye Park (Asian)
Han Jin (Asian)
Du Juan (Asian)
Tao Okamoto (Asian)
Chanel Iman (Black)
Sessilee Lopez (Black)
Georgie Badiel (Black)
Jourdan Dunn (Black)

Michael Kors
7/55
12%
Caroline Ribeiro (Latina)
Bruna Tenorio (Latina)
Liu Wen (Asian)
Han Jin (Asian)
Jourdan Dunn (Black)
Chanel Iman (Black)
Arlenis Sosa (Black)

Monique Lhuillier
1/12
8%
Cecilia Mendez (Latina)

Narciso Rodriguez
3/39
8%
Liu Wen (Asian)
Sessilee Lopez (Black)
Arlenis Sosa (Black)

Oscar de la Renta
25/51
49%
Daiane Conterato (Latina, 3 looks)
Bruna Tenorio (Latina, 2 looks)
Cecilia Mendez (Latina, 2 looks)
Marilia Dutra (Latina, 2 looks)
Joan Smalls (Latina)
Hye Park (Asian)
Jourdan Dunn (Black, 3 looks, O, C)
Ubah Hassan (Black, 3 looks)
Sessilee Lopez (Black, 2 looks)
Georgie Badiel (Black, 2 looks)
Aminata Niaria (Black, 2 looks)
Arlenis Sosa (Black, 2 looks)
Tara Gill (Other — Native American)

Philosophy
2/24
8%
Daiane Conterato (Latina)
Selina Khan (Asian)

Proenza Schouler
3/38
8%
Daiane Conterato (Latina)
Liu Wen (Asian)
Jourdan Dunn (Black)

Ralph Lauren
16/55
29%
Cecilia Mendez (Latina, 3 looks, O)
Bruna Tenorio (Latina, 3 looks)
Tao Okamoto (Asian, 2 looks)
Liu Wen (Asian)
Shu Pei Qin (Asian)
Selina Khan (Asian)
Ubah Hassan (Black, 3 looks)
Jourdan Dunn (Black)
Gracie Carvalho (Black)

Rodarte
3/35
9%
Daul Kim (Asian)
Emma Pei (Asian)
Jourdan Dunn (Black)

Thakoon
5/35
14%
Daiane Conterato (Latina, 2 looks)
Bruna Tenorio (Latina)
Jourdan Dunn (Black, 2 looks, C)

Tommy Hilfiger
5/29
13%
Du Juan (Asian)
Eugenia Mandzhieva (Asian)
Jourdan Dunn (Black)
Sessilee Lopez (Black)
Arlenis Sosa (Black)

Vera Wang
8/30
27%
Bruna Tenorio (Latina)
Daiane Conterato (Latina)
Wanessa Milhomem (Latina)
Shu Pei Qin (Asian)
Tao Okamoto (Asian)
Liu Wen (Asian)
Gracie Carvalho (Black)
Aminata Niaria (Black)

Yigal Azrouël
11/28
39%
Bruna Tenorio (Latina, 2 looks)
Daiane Conterato (Latina, 2 looks)
Lais Oliveira (Latina, 2 looks)
Tao Okamoto (Asian, 2 looks)
Hye Park (Asian)
Kinée Diouf (Black, 2 looks)

Zac Posen
5/43
12%
Du Juan (Asian)
Alek Wek (Black, 2 looks)
Chanel Iman (Black)
Jourdan Dunn (Black)

About These Numbers

There's a certain undeniable level of weirdness to looking through runway slideshows on Style.com (and I did only consider presentations and shows by designers big enough to attract Style.com's attention) and counting the models of color. It's hard to put individuals of mixed backgrounds into neat little categories, especially when ethnic labels still carry so much weight within society. It seems thoroughly antique and not a little distasteful.

So, why count models? The fact remains that the fashion industry plays a huge role in promulgating ideas of beauty within Western culture, and how the people in charge of casting for the runways — plus the magazines, and the billboards, and the TV spots and the banner ads — choose to represent beauty has a huge impact on, well, pretty much everyone. It's also naive to think that casting happens anything but deliberately: models of color are still booked as Models Of Color, so noticing when they work and for whom is, in a way, natural.

That's not to say it was easy, or that I'm standing behind these classifications as the be-all and end-all. Take Sessilee Lopez. She may be a Spanish-speaking Latina magazine covergirl:

How Did New York Fashion Week's 116 Shows Treat Models Of Color?

But in many ways, her career was made when she was chosen as one of the cover models for Vogue Italia's groundbreaking all-black issue last July:

How Did New York Fashion Week's 116 Shows Treat Models Of Color?

So, I had to pick, and I chose to count Sessilee as black. Gracie Carvalho, a Brazilian of African heritage, and Chanel Iman, who is famously of mixed African-American and Korean background, are two examples of other models I chose to classify as black who could have potentially ended up in other categories.

Latina models were the hardest to count. Sometimes, dark-eyed and dark-haired Spaniards, like Clara Alonso and Sheila Marquez, jumped out at me in runway lineups — but I didn't count them as Latina, because they're both European. I classified the Puerto Rican model Joan Smalls as Latina, even though I just noticed Dodai counted her as black a year ago. But I also put the brown-eyed, fair-skinned Brazilian Daiane Conterato in the Latina camp, even though sometimes when I saw her on the runway, I would take her for white. Nationality isn't much guide to a person's ethnicity. South American models like Pilar Solchaga, Flo Gennaro, and Isabeli Fontana, who have European heritage, I chose not to count as Latina. Them's the breaks.

Now, my Google history is full of fascinating trips to Wikipedia to learn about the Kalmyk people (Eugenia Mandzhieva, a Russian national I counted as Asian, is Kalmyk) and my room-mate heard me chanting "Natasha Poly Natasa Vojnovic Vlada Roslyakova Roza Gough Georgie Badiel Bruna Tenorio Tao Okamoto Olga Scherer Selina Khan Katie Fogarty Fatima Siad Shanina Shaik Sharan Bala Behati Prinsloo Hye Park Ubah Hassan..." softly in my sleep last night. But the good news is, the runways of New York are becoming a more accurate reflection of who we are as a country. And while fashion still has some distance to go, that's worth cheering.

How Did New York Fashion Week's 116 Shows Treat Models Of Color?


Granted, to piece that together, I could have just looked at the banner for the New York shows on Style.com. From left, I think I can recognize Iris Strubegger, Sessilee Lopez backstage at Marc Jacobs, an Asian model I think is Han Jin, and then, to the right of the "Fall 2009" text, there's Tao Okamoto, a white model I can't place, and a tiny image of Jourdan Dunn. That's four models of color and two white models, happily sharing the same space, picked as emblems of the season to come. For now, the banner announcing the New York shows is actually more diverse than the shows were. But if this trend continues — and remember, WWD found one-third of shows in September of '07 had no models of color at all — soon that might not be the case.

Related: Has The 'Obama Effect' Come To Runway Castings? [NY Times]
Talk To The Newsroom: Cathy Horyn [NY Times]
New York City Fall 2009 Ready-to-Wear [Style.com]

Earlier: Fashion Week Runways Were Almost A Total Whitewash