New York fashion week wrapped up its Spring-Summer 2013 season with a whopping 143 shows and live presentations — more shows and presentations than we've ever had to cover during the eight seasons we've been compiling these runway diversity reports. (Back in February of 2009, there were only 116 shows.) As NYFW has grown, so has awareness of the problems that models of color can face in the industry: the ways that some magazines talk about race as though it were a trend, like British Vogue, and the manifest (if only occasionally acknowledged) preference of most clients for white models. Way too often in fashion, looking "aspirational" is still considered synonymous with "having white skin."
It is heartening, then, that this season proved to be the most racially diverse that we have ever counted. For the second time ever (and the second season in a row), white models actually comprised just less than 80% of the total model pool. Contrast that with the 87% of all runway spots that were given to white models in Fall-Winter 2008, when we began keeping track of models and race at NYFW.
This season, 143 designers presented some 4708 individual women's wear "looks" to buyers and press during the eight days of fashion week. 3736 of those looks, or 79.4%, were given to white models. Again this season, the second largest ethnic group on the runway at fashion week was Asians — Asian models got 476, or 10.1% of all the runway looks. Black models nabbed 383, or 8.1%. Non-white Latina models had 88 looks, or 1.9%. And models of other races wore 25, or 0.5% of all looks. Click on any chart in this post to enlarge.
These results may be partly attributed to the season, because one trend that is apparent from our data is the preference for slightly more models of color at the spring-summer collections and slightly fewer at the fall-winter collections, which may be due to a belief on the part of casting directors that darker skin tones suit the bright colors of spring clothes better than they do fall's more somber hues. (Or at least that's what some casting directors tell us off-the-record — generally while rolling their eyes.) But more jobs for models of color is good news no matter what the reason.
Despite the overall positive trend, there were still a number of shows that were not very diverse. Eight brands — Araks, Brood, Calvin Klein, Elizabeth & James, Louise Goldin, MM6 Maison Martin Margiela, See by Chloé, and The Row — had zero models of color. Their casts were entirely white. That's around 6% of all shows. (In 2007, according to published reports, one-third of the shows at NYFW had all-white casts.) Additionally, there were 31 shows and presentations that had three or fewer models of color. That's more than 20% of all shows.
Calvin Klein, after seasons in which it showed its collection on an all-white cast but for one model of color, decided to just go with an all-white cast. The Olsen twins continued their habit of hiring all-white casts for their two brands, The Row and Elizabeth & James.
Some of the most diverse shows were Tracy Reese, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Jason Wu, Jen Kao, Anna Sui, Barbara Tfank, Boy by Band of Outsiders, Edun, Chado Ralph Rucci, Zac Posen, and Betsey Johnson. At the industry's high end, Ralph Lauren and Oscar de la Renta showed their collections on very racially diverse casts. Emerging brands like Calla and Dean Quinn also included a lot of models of color.
The conversation about racial diversity in fashion is a large and complex one, of which data like these are only one part. As I wrote last season,
It's difficult to quantify a problem like high fashion's demonstrated preference for white skin. Race is a social construct, not a fact. And our "categories" — black, Asian, non-white Latina, and what we for lack of a better term call "other" — are not (and probably cannot be) perfect. We don't count white women from Latin America in our gerrymandered "Latina" category; though they are as Latina as their darker-complected countrywomen, on the international modeling circuit, the color of their skin is more important than the passports they bear or the cultural heritage they represent, and they have the privilege of competing with other white models for the much larger pool of jobs that are open to white models.
And racial diversity is only one way in which the fashion industry — and, by extension, our cultural ideas about what and who gets to be beautiful — could stand to broaden. There's also age, sexual orientation, and, most obviously, size. Despite necessarily imperfect methods, we do this census every season because it can be helpful to put anecdote and reportage in the context of actual numbers. Again, as I wrote last season:
People are always arguing that things are getting better, that fashion is on some long, meliorative journey towards post-racial harmony, or whatever. Some people argue that fashion is already there! (To which I have only these words: slave earrings.) In an industry where the criticism and the reporting alike are informed by a certain amount of anecdote and conjecture, it's good to have some hard numbers.
For those who are curious, our full report is embedded below.
Prabal Gurung, another critically acclaimed young designer who showed his collection on a very diverse cast this season, talked a little about the rationale behind his casting to the Wall Street Journal. "It wasn't deliberate, like 'let's look for Asian models,'" said the designer, who was himself born in Singapore and raised in Nepal. "But for me being a minority myself, I have always believed personally and professionally that there's beauty in every race. I have a 6-year-old niece, and in a few years she will be aware of all this stuff and I want to make sure there are enough role models for her. Beauty is beauty."
Fashion still has a long way to go before all forms of beauty are truly given equal consideration — but this season is another small step in the right direction.
Lede photo: model Sessilee Lopez walks in the runway finale at the Nanette Lepore show at Lincoln Center on September 12, 2012. Behind Lopez is model Lee Hye Jung.
Special thanks to Madeleine Davies, Tanisha Ramirez, and Isha Aran, who helped compile this report.
Related: The Fall-Winter 2012 Report
The Spring-Summer 2012 Report
The Fall-Winter 2011 Report
The Spring-Summer 2011 Report
The Fall-Winter 2010 Report
The Fall-Winter 2009 Report
The Fall-Winter 2008 Report