Post Critic Sees 85%-White Fashion Week As Example Of Progress

"The fashion industry sent a commendably eclectic array of models down the New York runways this month. The women were more diverse in ethnicity, age and size," writes Robin Givhan. She must have watched a different season than we did.

At a wide range of fall 2010 shows, one could spot black, Latina and Asian models. There were enough of them coming down the runways that if one happened to blink, there would still be visual evidence that the fashion industry has modestly changed its ways. The runways did not look like a global melting pot; it was not a United Nations dressed in sample sizes. But designers have significantly broadened their definition of beauty, style and "It-ness."

The only problem with Givhan's argument is that it bears little relation to reality. It's fine to talk about diversity in the broad, anecdotal sense — but the actual numbers indicate that, while this season's New York shows were better than three years ago, the city's catwalks were less diverse than the shows of one year ago. The trend of increasing diversity that had been established, due to the hard work of people like Bethann Hardison and CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg, was reversed.

"There is now room for more than a single woman of color per show. Better to applaud such a newfound reality rather than lament how absurdly parochial and Johnny-come-lately such progress sounds here in 2010," says Givhan. But if fashion has made "room" for more than one model of color per show, it's hardly very much. This February in New York, 37 shows — including Donna Karan, Rag & Bone, Diesel, Maz Azria, and Hervé Leger — used just one or two models of color. That's just over 30%. Overall, 84% of the 4,095 runway and presentation spots went to white models. While there were some prominent shows that were very diverse — 3.1 Phillip Lim, Diane von Furstenberg's own show, Sophie Théallet — there were far, far more that were nearly all-white.

Givhan even calls out Calvin Klein — a brand that used just one model of color, Shena Moulton, in its 34-look runway show — for special praise. Creative director Francisco "Costa not only offered up a more lively ethnic mix but a broader age range, too," says Givhan — because in that cast were four white supermodels in their 30s and 40s. This post is illustrated with a photo from the fall 2010 Calvin Klein show, to give you an idea just how diverse it was. For what it's worth, Calvin Klein also had no "livelier" an ethnic mix than in previous seasons, either. Costa used one model of color last September, and one model of color last February, and one model of color the September before that, too.

While this season there were fewer shows that had no models of color than in previous years, the overwhelming majority of fashion shows clustered around the bottom of the diversity spectrum. It's as if designers grudgingly booked one or two models of color just to avoid copping the inevitable criticism.

And yet, somehow, one of the most prominent fashion critics in the country bought the ploy. If Givhan's work, which I happen to respect very much, has a signal weakness, it lies in the Post writer's own potential for credulity.

For Fall 2010 Shows, Fashion Designers Sent Diverse Models Down The Runways
[Washington Post]

Earlier: Fewer Models Of Color Work New York's Fashion Runways
How Did New York Fashion Week's 116 Shows Treat Models Of Color?
Fashion Week Runways Are Almost A Total Whitewash