Now that New York Fashion Week is over, we've crunched the numbers. Of the 142 shows out of the 184 that showed at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week for Spring/Summer 2014*, there were 4637 looks. Of those close to 5,000 looks, around 80 percent were modeled by white women. (80 percent. That's a number that, if you look at the charts, we're growing familiar with.) Fewer than 1,000 looks were given to women who were not white, mostly black and asian women, with some non-white Latina women sneaking in there. Women of other ethnicities, like Middle Eastern women, were barely seen.
Some of the designers whose casts featured a respectable roughly 30 percent or more models of color or more were Anna Sui, Pamella Roland Jeremy Scott, Dennis Basso, Vivienne Tam, KaufmanFranco, Rachel Comey, Alice + Olivia, Ohne Tietal, Tracy Reese, Thom Brown, Diane Von Furstenberg and Zac Posen.
Calvin Klein, which notably had no models of color walk during the last New York Fashion week, upped the number from zero to five this season. But Calvin Klein still paled in comparison to its contemporaries (like Diane Von Furstenberg, who is has an equally huge legacy brand with a similar "American" aesthetic). Others that went from zero to slightly more than zero: Belstaff and Gregory Parkinson.
Unfortunately, there were plenty of designers who featured a distressingly low number of models of color, like Marchesa, Joie, Kate Gallagher, Sass & Bide, Wes Gordon, Assembly, Theyskens' Theory, Yigal Azrouel, Band of Outsiders, Victoria Beckham, Jen Kao, Jill Stuart and Lacoste. These designers often had models of color showing between zero and three looks a presentation. Many boosted their numbers only because of a select black or asian model who wore more than one look.
From left to right: Isabella Melo for Vivienne Tam; Juana Burga in Ralph Rucci; Lais Ribeiro at Badgley Mischka; Daiane Conterato for Vera Wang
Additionally, only roughly a dozen models of color opened or closed shows this season, notably Joan Smalls opening at DKNY and Altuzarra, while Diane Von Furstenberg made a splash with Naomi Campbell.
From left to right: Cora Emmanuel walks Peter Som; Grace Mahary in Suno; Naomi Campbell closes Diane Von Furstenberg; Joan Smalls at DKNY
The problem is that while there might have been nominally more models of color this season than last, all of the same models were booking the shows, a problem we've noted before that seems to have gotten worse. Which is great for those particular workers but indicates a reliance on the same faces over and over again, and an inability to open the doors to all models of color. Some of the top models of color this season worked a shockingly impressive number of shows for a week-long event; Latina model Isabella Melo walked in 17 shows, as did black models Grace Mahary, Jasmine Tookes and Maliaka Firth. Other popular models: black model Cora Emmanuel was seen in 13 shows, Joan Smalls did 11 and Roberta Narciso, Veridiana Ferreira, Nykhor Paul all tied at 10.
From left to right: Liu Wen walks Jason Wu; Ji Hye Park walks in Nicole Miller; Tian Yi in Monique Lhuillier; Yumi Lambert at Y-3
The same pattern was seen among asian models as well. Tian Yi walked 15, Yumi Lambert was seen in at least 13 and Ji Hye Park and Liu Wen walked 12 shows. Are designers choosing to diversify their shows by relying on a small pool of diverse women? And if that's the case, should we chastise them for their lack of creativity or the offerings they're getting from agencies?
It's impossible to find the designers entirely at fault; agencies in the past have admitted to not taking on women of color because they claim it's not what designers want. But it's also boring to see many, many different white women and the same black, white and Latina faces over and over again. It indicates a lack of creative thinking on the part of the designers, who perhaps are feeling pressure to cast more diverse models but reluctant to create diversity by giving out chances to "fresher" faces that are less well-known. It's possible that instead, they're convinced that it's only more established models of color who have earned a spot on their runways. If that's the case, that's a whole other problem for models of color to face, one that indicates that though the fashion world might be more accepting of them, there's still an equally steep mountain for them to climb in their quest to find consistent work.
As always, we are fully aware that race is a construct. The point of this is not to dissect and label the women hired to work the shows. And our methods are admittedly flawed; we can't delve into every model's ethnic background. We're mostly concerned with visuals: Is there an array of skintones? Does the cast of the show look ethnically diverse? When the entire world has its eye on New York Fashion Week, when there are international media outlets with cameras capturing designs from brands like Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs and Diane von Furstenberg — companies with global influence — it's important to question what message is being sent down the runways along with the clothes. Fashion is often about luxury and exclusivity. But when that exclusivity comes in the form of an all-white cast, it certainly looks like discrimination and racism, which should never be in style.
Research conducted by Phoenix Tso, Callie Beusman and Tanisha Love Ramirez. Additional reporting by Dodai Stewart.
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*For the most part, we didn't include collections that were presented as presentations or through lookbooks that featured just a few models. All menswear was excluded.
Images via Getty