Fashion Week's Models Are Getting WhiterS

The Fall-Winter 2013 shows have just finished up in New York. This season saw 151 shows and live presentations during fashion week's eight days — making it the biggest and busiest NYFW we've ever covered. But it wasn't very racially diverse.



Click on any chart in this post to enlarge.

Fashion Week's Models Are Getting Whiter

This season, 151 New York designers' shows were covered by Style.com. Those shows presented 4479 individual women's wear "looks" to buyers and press, representing 4479 opportunities for a model to walk the runway or pose in a presentation. 3706 of those looks, or 82.7%, were this season shown on white models. Asian models nabbed 409, or 9.1% of all the runway looks. Black models were hired for 271, or 6%. Non-white Latina models had 90 looks, or 2%. Models of other races wore 12, or 0.2% of all looks.

Fashion Week's Models Are Getting WhiterS

Thirteen companies — Araks, Assembly, Belstaff, Calvin Klein, Elizabeth & James, Gregory Parkinson, J Brand, Jenni Kayne, Juicy Couture, Louise Goldin, Lyn Devon, Threeasfour, and Whit — had no models of color at all. The brands Araks, Calvin Klein, Elizabeth & James, and Louise Goldin didn't hire any non-white models last season, either. That means this season, around 9% of all NYFW shows had all-white casts. That's up slightly from last season, when only 6% of shows had only white models. For comparison, in 2007, one-third of NYFW shows were all-white.

Designers that had more racial diversity included 3.1 Phillip Lim, Anna Sui, Badgley Mischka, Costello Tagliapietra, Diane von Furstenberg, J. Crew, Jason Wu, Jeremy Scott, Jonathan Simkhai, Mara Hoffman, Naeem Khan, Nicole Miller, Rebecca Taylor, Suno, Tracy Reese, Yeohlee, and Zac Posen.

This season marks the fifth year that we've collected this information, but I must admit that every time we finish one of these reports I'm left with questions, many of which are the same ones that I wrestled with nine seasons ago. Why does a huge global brand like Calvin Klein, whose multi-tiered business model depends on people from all corners of the globe wanting to see themselves in its logo, always appear to care so little about racial diversity at fashion week? Why does one mass-market contemporary label — J. Crew — apparently put so much effort into hiring a multi-ethnic cast of models, when others — Elizabeth & James, J Brand — do not? At the high end, why are Oscar de la Renta's and Diane von Furstenberg's shows so racially diverse, while Michael Kors' and Vera Wang's aren't? Why are some of New York's talented younger designers — Jason Wu, Prabal Gurung, Phillip Lim, Zac Posen — hiring so many more models of color than their just-as-buzzed-about peers like Alexander Wang, Proenza Schouler, and Rodarte? Why do so many fashion brands still treat racial diversity as optional, or a matter of taste?

I have a few theories why this season's numbers show NYFW to be a few percentage points less racially diverse than the last two seasons have been. One is that it's the fall season, and we have noted a slight swing from more racial diversity in the casting for the spring shows to less in the fall shows. (Casting directors have told me in the past that there's a belief on the part of some designers that bright spring colors look better on non-white skin tones than fall and winter hues.) The other is simply that a few relatively prominent models of color didn't walk NYFW this season, and with jobs for non-white models being already so scarce, the absence of even a handful of such models has a relatively big impact on the season's overall numbers. Latina models like Mariana Santana and Catalina Llanes, who both walked a bunch of shows last September, didn't do NYFW this season. Nor did the St. Helenian model Rea Triggs, the black models Genesis Vallejo and Senait Gidey, or the North African models Hind Sahli and Hanaa ben Abdesslem, or Tara Gill and Jenny Albright, who are both part Native American, to name a few.

There are many negative effects of the industry's preference for white skin — within fashion, it forces models of color to compete against each other for the one or two runway spots that might go to a non-white girl, it provides downward pressure on non-white models' wages, and it makes agencies less willing to invest in models of color, given that fewer opportunities mean a lower lifetime earning potential. And outside the industry — because the models who rise to the top of the heap doing runway are the models who go on to do the magazine covers, the cosmetics campaigns, the luxury brand ads, the billboards, and the TV commercials that girls all over the world can't help but grow up consuming — it promotes the idea that beauty means having white skin.

As I've written before, the conversation about racial diversity in fashion is a large and complex one, of which data like these are only one small part. It's difficult to quantify a problem like high fashion's demonstrated preference for white skin. Race is a social construct, after all, not a fact. And our "categories" — black, Asian, non-white Latina, and what we for lack of a better term call "other" — are not perfect. 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 our imperfect methods, we do this census every season because we believe it's helpful to put anecdote and reportage in the context of actual numbers. If we acknowledge that the overwhelming whiteness of fashion's imagery is a problem, then trying to measure that problem can be the first step towards solving it.

For those who are curious, our full report is embedded below.

Special thanks to Tanisha Ramirez, who helped compile this report.

Lead image: Model Bruna Tenório, who is of indigenous Brazilian descent, walks the runway at Zac Posen's fall-winter, 2013, show.

Models of Color FW2013 by

Related:
The Spring-Summer 2013 Report
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