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.
The Most Surprising Models to Walk Fashion Week Fall 2019
Zendaya might not be a casting director, or even a designer, but she more than proved herself to the industry at her joint show with Tommy Hilfiger during Paris Fashion Week, which featured not only entirely black models, but also none other than Grace Jones. As ever, Jones did not disappoint: The 70-year-old icon danced down the runway as expertly as she did decades ago at Studio 54.
Penélope Cruz paid her respects to the late Karl Lagerfeld from the runway, which she walked for the first time in honor of the late designer’s final Chanel show, just two weeks after his death.
Beverly Johnson, the ’70s icon who became the first African-American model to appear on the cover of Vogue in 1974, also turned up at Zendaya’s Tommy show.
Smiles are usually a runway rarity, but ’80s and ’90s supermodel Beverly Peele, who’s amassed more than 250 magazine covers over the course of her career, couldn’t stop grinning when she joined Jones on the runway at Tommy Hilfiger’s spring 2019 show with Zendaya during Paris Fashion Week in March 2019.
Veronica Webb, who memorably turned up amidst the 700-plus models that Kanye West enlisted for Yeezy Season 3, returned to the runway this season not once, but twice. After joining Christina Ricci at Batsheva in New York, she journeyed on to Paris in March 2019 to join Jones, Johnson, Peele, and the rest at Tommy Hilfiger.
Cara Delevingne joined Gigi Hadid in bleaching her eyebrows for Prada’s fall/winter 2019 show during Milan Fashion Week in February 2019.
Back in 2015, Vanessa Moody was practically everywhere. And while she still occasionally turns up the runway, her days of walking 50-plus shows per season are definitely in the past. Understandably, though, this season she returned to the spotlight for Olivier Rousteing, who cast her in Balmain’s fall/winter 2019 show during Paris Fashion Week in March 2019.
Isabeli Fontana knows how to steal the show. (Exhibit A: That time she stepped off dry land in Venice and, to the Italian paparazzi’s delight, fully clothed into the Adriatic Sea.) She kept things a bit more casual but nonetheless made her presence known once again at Redemption’s fall/winter 2019 show during Paris Fashion Week in March 2019, marking her second runway appearance this year.
Pat Cleveland followed in Grace Jones’s lead at Tommy Hilfiger and Zendaya’s joint show during Paris Fashion Week, which she did her best to turn into a dance party.
Please do not read this caption before watching this hypnotizing video of Shalom Harlow dancing in Versace. All done? Now please proceed to take in this photo of the ’90s super opening Versace’s fall/winter 2019 show during Milan Fashion Week in February 2019.
Donatella Versace wasn’t messing around this season. (Or, well, ever.) In addition to Harlow, she also tapped ’90s super Stephanie Seymour to lead Versace’s fall/winter 2019 finale.
Stella Maxwell took a break from Victoria’s Secret to team up with Jeremy Scott not once, but twice—first at his eponymous label’s fall/winter 2019 show during New York, and again at Moschino’s fall/winter 2019 show during Milan Fashion Week in February 2019.
Being accused of “failure to influence” clearly hasn’t slowed Luka Sabbat down. After walking LaQuan Smith in New York, he journeyed on to Milan to walk Benetton’s fall/winter 2019 show in February 2019.
Gemma Ward continued her comeback into the fall/winter 2019 season when she appeared at Etro’s fall/winter 2019—and 50th anniversary—show during Milan Fashion Week in February 2019.
A Miuccia Prada favorite since 2005, Freja Beha Erichsen added Prada to the selective roster of shows she’s taken to walking each season at Milan Fashion Week in February 2019.
Forty-one-year-old ’90s supermodel Guinevere Van Seenus has been surprisingly prolific this season, joining Gemma Ward at Etro’s fall/winter 2019 show in addition to appearing at Erdem and Marc Jacobs in February 2019.
Less than a year after she gave birth to her second child, Candice Swanepoel has already walked the runway of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, Prabal Gurung’s fall/winter 2019 show, and, most recently, Versace’s fall/winter 2019 show during Milan Fashion Week in February 2019.
For the second time in less than a year, Chloë Sevigny stepped out on the catwalk, this time to walk Simone Rocha’s fall/winter 2019 show during London Fashion Week in February 2019.
It looks like Jacquetta Wheeler, star British model of the ’90s, is back to frequenting Fashion Week for the first time since 2015. In addition to walking Etro’s fall/winter 2019 show, she also appeared at Burberry and Gareth Pugh in February 2019.
Twenty-eight years after appearing on one of Vogue‘s most famous covers alongside supers like Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford, 52-year-old Tatjana Patitz returned to the runway for Etro’s fall/winter 2019 show during Milan Fashion Week in February 2019.
It’s been more than five years since industry vet Lily Cole returned to the runway for Simone Rocha in February 2019.
Sixty-six-year-old actor Mickey Rourke brought his dog along to walk the runway of Philipp Plein’s fall/winter 2019 show during New York Fashion Week in February 2019.
Socialite, singer, and sometimes model Pixie Geldof had quite the busy London Fashion Week; Pringle of Scotland’s fall/winter 2019 show was just one of her appearances on the runway in February 2019.
The 68-year-old supermodel Pat Cleveland continued her five-decade reign in fashion when she walked the runway of Hellessy’s fall/winter 2019 show during New York Fashion Week in February 2019.
Forty-eight-year-old model and former Helmut Lang muse Kirsten Owen isn’t done with the runway just yet, as she also proved at Simone Rocha in February 2019.
Sara Ziff usually sticks behind the scenes, but the founder of the Model Alliance went back to her modeling roots at Deveaux’s fall/winter 2019 show during New York Fashion Week in February 2019.
Vaquera gave a pre-teen the chance to join in on its usual models’ practice of stomping down the runway at its fall/winter 2019 show during New York Fashion Week in February 2019.
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.)