If we expect American fashion to lead on any level, it should be on diversity. After all, New York is far more multicultural than Paris, London, and Milan, and that fact is reflected in the data the Fashion Spot has kept in recent years on model diversity and inclusion on the runway. New York Fashion Week has always led its European counterparts on the diversity front, and though Paris Fashion Week has just begun, not only does it seem poised to do so once again, but it has broken its own records.
This season, 45.8 percent of the models booked this past NYFW across 77 prominent shows were models of color. That’s up from 44.8 percent last season and more notably, up from just 20.9 percent in Spring 2015. Once again, every single show counted had at least one model of color, which wasn’t always the case, especially among some major shows, in the very recent past. The uptick came even as some champions of runway diversity, including Rihanna’s various Fenty-branded endeavors and Pyer Moss, sat the week out this time around.
The growing sense of inclusion is also now leading to a growing wave of more diverse booked and busy models. Indeed, nine out of the 10 most booked models at NYFW were of color. That includes Nigerian-born model Mayowa Nicholas, who booked 13 shows (including Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren, and Anna Sui) and tied for the most bookings with French-born Cyrielle Lalande. Here, the top-10 models of the season, according to the Fashion Spot’s numbers.
1 (tie). Mayowa Nicholas
1 (tie). Cyrielle Lalande
2 (tie). Hyun Ji Shin
2 (tie). Adesuwa Aighewi
2 (tie). Sijia Kang
2 (tie). Hannah Shakespeare
3 (tie). Anyelina Rosa
3 (tie). Blésnya Minher
3 (tie). Fatou Jobe
3 (tie). He Cong
Though race isn’t the only measure of diversity, and on other fronts, New York Fashion Week, as a whole, slipped some. Only 12 shows booked plus-size models this year, the same as last season, but among those 12 shows, only 37 spots were taken by plus-size models, down from 49 last year. Indeed, 10 of those plus-size models were all booked for a single show: size-inclusion-focused designer Christian Siriano. Another nine of those spots were at similarly inclusive-minded swimsuit brand Chromat’s show. Many other brands cast just one or two plus-size models, while the vast majority cast none at all.
The number of runway spots booked by openly transgender and nonbinary models was also down this season to 29 following an all-time high of 53 last year. That may be in part because Teddy Quinlivan, among the most in-demand runway models of any identity, decided to sit out New York Fashion Week this year, but that’s not the full picture. Still, Gypsy Sport and (once again) Chromat led the way in casting trans or nonbinary models with eight and four casting apiece.
All in all, the numbers paint a picture of an American fashion industry that finally continues to accept racial diversity on the runway as a default and not just an exception or a trend but still has work to do in other areas.