Kate Rushing, a contributor to StyleMinutes, a Web site devoted to fashion which also tracks models' appearances in runway shows, compiled data on the racial diversity of the big four fashion weeks. And in the season just ended, nearly nine out of ten models booked at New York, London, Milan and Paris fashion weeks were white.
We've been keeping data on racial diversity at New York fashion week since 2008, and while Rushing's methodology is a little different than ours — more on that in a moment — any attempt to quantify fashion's diversity is valuable. It's very hard to solve a problem if you can't first measure it.
Rushing found that 87.6% of the models this season were white. 6.5% were black, 6.1% were Asian, 2.1% were Hispanic, and 0.3% were Middle Eastern.
Rushing counted individual models' appearances in shows — not the number of outfits, or "looks," per show given to models of color. (At Jezebel, we count looks.) She used StyleMinutes' tallies of runway shows that models walked during the just-ended fall-winter 2013 season and information from StyleMinutes' database of models to determine each girl's race. She used white, black, Asian, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern as racial categories (we use white, black, Asian, Latina, and other). She didn't create a separate category for biracial models, but instead, she told me via email, "I counted them as one for each ethnicity they represent (Japanese-Belgian model Yumi Lambert, for instance, was counted as both Asian and White)." (That's why Rushing's percentages add up to slightly more than 100%.) For her "Hispanic" category, Rushing explains she counted "models from Central/South American countries where Spanish is the main language spoken — I didn't count Brazilian girls. Most of the Hispanic models however are of European descent, with the exception of the models of African descent and one Mexican model (Daniela Braga)." Because most of the models in Rushing's "Hispanic" category were white, that means that her numbers somewhat overstate the ethnic diversity of this season's runways. (In our "Latina" category, we a) include Brazilians and b) count only models who are not, or not primarily, of European descent. Because of the modeling industry's well-documented preference for finding and promoting models from regions of Latin America that were heavily settled by Germans, Italians, and other Northern Europeans and ignoring the women of color who are actually the majority in those countries, Latina models who are white, we count as white.) "This is all just based on my own personal understanding of what Hispanic means," says Rushing, "which I've discovered some people who've seen the graphic have taken issue with."
While some may quibble with Rushing's methodology, I think her contribution to the ongoing conversation about fashion's issues around race is valuable. No matter which way you cut it, it's distressing that the average fashion show this season had a nearly 90% white cast. Fewer opportunities for models of color on the runway translates to fewer opportunities for models of color to accrue the industry cred that leads to major advertising campaigns, cosmetics contracts, and magazine editorials and covers, and it contributes to downward pressure on rates of pay for models of color (making agencies less likely to invest in their development because of the lessened potential payoff). Within the industry, the otherization of models of color becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. But most importantly, this lack of diversity in fashion props up the idea that white beauty is the international beauty standard. And that's noxious to us all.
Models of Color at Fashion Month [Foudre.co]