Two years after the designer Philipp Plein tried (and failed) to “make New York Fashion Week great again,” the CFDA’s jewel did it all on its own. Even without Rihanna—not to mention her army of Fenty models like Slick Woods—this season was one for the books. Fall 2019 finally went beyond sending one nonwhite model down each runway: No fewer than nine of the 10 most booked models this season were women of color.
But New York Fashion Week has always led its European counterparts—Paris, London, and Milan—in terms of diversity, which is why it’s only now, more than a month after the first day of shows, that the industry is declaring victory. Thanks to the Fashion Spot, which went through its usual painstaking process of tracking each and every show and model appearance this season (fall 2019 featured 221 shows and 7,300 models), we can confirm that Fashion Week has officially never been more diverse.
Perhaps even more importantly, as the nearly one-third of shows in New York that featured 50 percent or more models of color suggests, it may have also been the first time the industry seemed to understand diversity as a concept, rather than a buzzword. According to the Fashion Spot, 38.3 percent of models who walked the 221 shows that made up the fall 2019 season were people of color.
That 2.7 percent jump up from last season, spring 2019, is significant, and apparently sustainable—the percentage of models of color who’ve walked Fashion Week since the Fashion Spot started keeping track, in 2014, when only 17 percent of models who walked the Spring 2015 shows were not white, has now more than doubled.
But the numbers, of course, also tell a more nuanced story. Fall may have beat out spring 2019 in terms of racial diversity, but it failed to keep up the progress in representing transgender, nonbinary, and plus-size models that had been made a few months back. Still, there’s comfort in the fact that the numbers didn’t drop too much, and that, thanks to Gypsy Sport and its casting of Jari Jones, they include an all-too-rare model who is both transgender and plus-size.
Another individual managed to affect change throughout the entire industry: It’s entirely plausible that this season wouldn’t have broken age- and race-related records without the participation of the newcomer Zendaya. The 22-year-old wasted no time in showing she meant business with her Fashion Week debut by casting exclusively models of color—59 in total, ranging from 18 year olds to none other than 70-year-old Grace Jones—to model her new collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger. (Here’s hoping Milan is up next on the the duo’s calendar; this was, after all, the first season that the city’s percentage of models of color surpassed 30 percent.)