At the close of the Spring 2018 season, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour observed that diversity on the runways finally felt like the rule, not the exception: “It was a giant step forward and I think that those who have spoken up in the past publicly should really be given a lot of credit. And I hope that those that did not follow suit will now recognize that fashion has a responsibility to be in step with the times and not persist in portraying a one-note way of looking at women.”
In a post-New York Fashion Week interview with Paper magazine, casting director James Scully — one of those who has often “spoken up” publicly regarding diversity (or lack thereof) on the runways — echoed Wintour’s remarks: “I have to say in all the years I’ve been in this business, it was definitely the most diverse on every level. Besides size and color and age, there was a big showing of trans girls this season and Teddy Quinlivan coming out … I don’t even know what to say, I’m so surprised at how diverse it was.”
Wintour and Scully are right: times are unquestionably changing. In Spring 2018, race, age, body and transgender representation on the runways reached an all-time high. It’s important not to exaggerate the level of progress, however. There’s still much work to be done. See below.
Spring 2018 was the most racially diverse runway season in recent history. After examining 266 major shows and tallying 8,258 runway appearances from New York, London, Paris and Milan, we found that, for all four cities combined, 69.8 percent of castings were white and 30.2 percent were women of color. Although this figure is far from where it needs to be, it is a slight (2.3 point) improvement over Fall 2017, when nonwhite models accounted for 27.9 percent of castings. (For reference, Spring 2017 and Fall 2016’s runways were 25.4 and 24.7 percent nonwhite, respectively.)
This marks the first time the combined runways have featured over 30 percent models of color. Of course, this was largely due to improvements made in New York, which, at 36.9 percent models of color, was the most racially diverse of the four fashion capitals. As we reported last month, New York Fashion Week broke its own racial diversity record from Fall 2016 of 31.9 percent models of color. Not only that, for the first time, every runway or presentation we examined featured at least two models of color. (Fall 2017 was the first wherein every runway featured at least one model of color.)
Happily, New York wasn’t the only city to hit this diversity landmark. Overseas, every London show we tracked also had at least two models of color. For the second season running, London had the second highest presence of nonwhite models at 31 percent (a modest 2.6 point improvement over Fall 2017, but still a record high for the city).
Paris and Milan also saw more nonwhite model castings than ever before at 27 percent and 24.7 percent, respectively. Those were marginal gains, however. Paris’ 27 percent was preceded by 25.9 percent in Fall 2017 and 24.1 percent in Spring 2017. Milan, which consistently lags well behind the rest — it’s the only city wherein models of color still account for less than one-fourth of castings — showed the least improvement. In Fall 2017, models of color accounted for 23.8 percent of all Milan catwalkers, in Spring 2017, 20.9 percent. Nonetheless, it’s encouraging that Milan and Paris have now seen steady improvements season over season since Spring 2015.
Spring 2018 was a banner season for body diversity. A record 93 plus-size models walked the runways, up from 30 last season and 16 in Spring 2017. That said, curve models are still incredibly underrepresented on the runways, especially in Europe.
To wit: plus-size models made up only 1.13 percent of castings across all four cities. What’s more, 90 of the 93 bookings took place in New York and of those, a majority (56) were at Addition Elle and Torrid, two companies that only sell clothing above a size 10. Longtime diversity champions Christian Siriano and Chromat accounted for the bulk of the 34 remaining New York castings. (Siriano had 10, Chromat 11.)
Still, there were signs of hope. Spring 2018 offered opportunities for multiple talents to shine, many of them at high-profile shows. Eckhaus Latta, hailed as one of New York Fashion Week’s top collections, saw Paloma Elsesser’s runway debut. For the second season running, Michael Kors and Prabal Gurung cast two plus-size models apiece. Ashley Graham and Sabina Karlsson walked at Kors; Graham and Candice Huffine at Gurung. Natalie Nootenboom joined megastars Gigi and Bella Hadid at Anna Sui.
As for the European shows, two plus-size models walked at Paris Fashion Week, one in London. The Milan collections featured not a single curve model. (Though we applaud the steps Europe-based fashion conglomerates Kering and LVMH, which collectively own Gucci, Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, took to present a healthier body ideal by banning models below a U.S. size 2 from the runways, the charter was not intended to promote the casting of plus-size models.)
In London, Teatum Jones’ notably diverse lineup included plus-size model Ali Tate and a handful of disabled models, among them amputee Vicky Balch. (Fitting, as the show was dedicated to British Paralympic dressage rider and 11-time gold medalist Natasha Baker.)
In Paris, “inbetweenie” models (who fall right in the middle of the size spectrum and constitute a particularly underrepresented group) had a high-fashion moment at Alexander McQueen. Newcomers Eline Lykke (a former fisherman) and Betsy Teske (a law student in Amsterdam) joined It girls Jean Campbell and Lexi Boling on the runway. According to casting director Jess Hallett, McQueen’s relatively inclusive runway pointed to the show’s greater theme: “sisterhood and celebrating femininity.”
It’s also worth noting that the season’s most-booked plus-size model was a woman of color (Jocelyn Corona with four shows) and that, for the first time in recent memory, an over-50 plus-size model walked at New York Fashion Week (54-year-old Emme at Chromat). Progress may be slow — and mainly confined to New York — but it’s palpable.
Transgender visibility saw a significant lift, too. For Spring 2018, there were 45 transgender women castings and 4 non-binary model appearances across 47 (for the most part, major) runways. That’s by far the largest figure we’ve seen since we first started tallying the numbers in 2015. By comparison, Fall 2017 saw only 12 such castings, confined to 5 — again, big-name — shows. The prior season had only 10 transgender model appearances, the season before that 8.
Whereas all 12 of Fall 2017’s transgender and non-binary model appearances occurred in New York, Spring 2018 saw 10 trans and non-binary castings in Paris, 7 in Milan and 1 in London.
In recent times, it has become (slightly) easier for those who identify as transgender, non-binary or gender nonconforming to break into the fashion industry thanks to increasingly mainstream advocacy on the part of activists like Hari Nef, Laverne Cox and Andreja Pejic. Spring 2018’s massive uptick in transgender and non-binary castings shouldn’t be attributed to a sudden leveling of the playing field, though. Rather, it’s a testament to the success of model Teddy Quinlivan, discovered by Louis Vuitton creative director Nicolas Ghesquière back in 2015.
After two years of strutting just about every major catwalk and fronting campaigns for Oscar de la Renta, Michael Kors and more, Quinlivan publicly revealed her transgender identity in a September 13 interview with CNN Style. “There are not a lot of openly trans people in media, and I think it’s really important to show people that not only am I trans, I’m (also) very successful and good at what I do,” stated the model. Indeed, she is. The 23-year-old accounted for over half (27) of the season’s transgender model castings, including all those that took place in Milan and all but one in Paris. It’s heartening to see that Quinlivan’s honesty did not diminish her prospects.
Quinlivan helped boost Spring 2018’s percentage of transgender women and non-binary model appearances to 0.59, a record high. Of the European shows we examined*, only two featured a transgender woman or non-binary model that wasn’t Quinlivan: transgender model Hunter Schafer walked at Versus Versace in London and non-binary model Jude Karda at Anrealage in Paris.
New York, on the other hand, had a fair share of non-Quinlivan transgender (17) and non-binary (3) castings, including Stav Strashko at Tome, Dara Allen at Marc Jacobs, Schafer at Hood By Air and R13, Massima Lei at Coach 1941 and Sies Marjan and Leyna Bloom, Aurel Haize Odogbo, Carmen Carrera, Maya Monès and Geena Rocero at Chromat.
Additionally, thanks to the aforementioned New York designers, people of color constituted 10 of the 49 transgender and non-binary castings and a transgender, nonwhite model over 50 (Sophia Lamar) walked in one of the most talked-about shows of the month, Helmut Lang. Thus, though a tall, white, willowy, cisgender-presenting model accounted for the majority of gender-inclusive castings, it’s clear the industry is not only moving beyond exclusion, it’s moving beyond tokenism. (Again, at least in New York.)
*Transgender model Talulah-Eve Brown walked for London-based label Giles Deacon, which was not examined for this report.
Women in their 50s, 60s and upward were the only group that didn’t experience a drastic bump in representation. Still, the category showed solid improvement. Last season, 21 models over the age of 50 walked the runways of New York, London, Milan and Paris. For Spring 2018, that figure rose to 27 — an underwhelming 0.33 percent of the castings we considered, but still an all-time high.
One could argue that mature models benefited from the most organic growth in representation. No exclusively over-50 shows bolstered their numbers (L’Oréal Paris’ Insta-friendly Champs-Élysées outing, where no Spring 2018 line debuted, was not included in this report) and all castings were deliberate, not inadvertent (which was not the case in the transgender/non-binary category).
Additionally — and refreshingly — the fashion world’s emphasis on age-inclusiveness extended into Europe. For Spring 2018, every fashion capital saw at least 3 over-50 model castings. Yet again, New York came out on top with 10 mature model appearances, including Coco Mitchell at Tome, Susan Cianciolo at Eckhaus Latta, Sophia Lamar at Helmut Lang and Emme at Chromat.
Next came Milan and Paris with 7 over-50 castings apiece (for reference, Milan had 6 last season, Paris just 2). At Milan Fashion Week, industry vets Cordula Reyer, Simonetta Gianfelici and Benedetta Barzini hit the runway for Arthur Arbesser, Antonio Marras and Daniela Gregis, respectively. Versace’s epic supermodel reunion featured one gold lamé-clad quinquagenarian, the inimitable Cindy Crawford. Chez Paris, throwback models (among them Axelle Doué, Charlotte Flossault and Mino Sassy) helped Yang Li, Uma Wang, Issey Miyake and Balenciaga highlight the versatility of their clothes.
London, home to the most mature model appearances of Fall 2017 (7), fell to the bottom of the pile this season with just 3. Only two U.K. designers — Roland Mouret and Natasha Zinko — showed clothes on women over 50, notably Cecilia Chancellor and Luna De Casanova. Simone Rocha and Gareth Pugh: What gives?
MOST AND LEAST DIVERSE SHOWS
Back in June, Kenzo designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim closed out Paris Men’s Fashion Week with a floral and fuzzy sock-filled Spring 2018 collection shown on an all-Asian cast. “We felt like it would be really beautiful and poetic to cast a full Asian cast and celebrate the heritage of the brand,” wrote the design duo on Instagram. For their second “La Collection Memento,” shown during Paris Fashion Week proper, Leon and Lim again hired a predominantly (14 out of 18, or 78 percent) nonwhite cast — along with a traditional Japanese theater group. Whichever calendar you’re going by, theirs was the most racially diverse show of the season.
British accessories designer and newly inked Puma collaborator Sophia Webster came in second, hiring 6 out of 8 (75 percent) models of color to sit among Alice in Wonderland-style flowers and branches. London-based Delhi-born designer Ashish Gupta tied with Webster. His “celestial, ethereal, sad” (but reliably sequin-filled) collection featured 12 out of 16 (75 percent) models of color.
Next came Chromat, which, in addition to being the third-most racially diverse Spring 2018 show (with 72 percent nonwhite models), featured 5 transgender models, 1 non-binary model and 11 plus-size models (one of them over 50), making it the most inclusive runway of the season.
Tome, another New York-based brand, sent out 70 percent models of color along with 1 transgender model (Stav Strashko), 3 women over 50 and 2 plus-size women. “Tome is an everywoman brand, meaning it’s a collection that speaks to women of all ages, shapes and ethnicities. We wanted to make sure that was reflected on the runway, and in the case of our Spring 2018 presentation, the stage,” designers Ramon Martin and Ryan Lobo told theFashionSpot. Thanks to their directional casting, Tome was the fourth-most multicultural show of the season and one of the most inclusive overall.
Historically, New York has the best diversity record of the four cities and is typically home to most — if not all — of the season’s most diverse shows, so it’s refreshing to see Paris and London gaining ground (even if they were helped along by Kanye West’s abstention). Still, New York hosted all of Spring 2018’s most size-, gender- and age-inclusive collections: Torrid, Helmut Lang, Marc Jacobs, Tracy Reese, Christian Siriano, Desigual, Tome and Chromat.
While the aforementioned brands were defined by their diverse lineups, others, to borrow Wintour’s words, persisted “in portraying a one-note way of looking at women.” Unsurprisingly, many of these designers hailed from Milan, among them Mila Schön, Laura Biagiotti and Giorgio Armani, which included only 3, 4 and 8 percent nonwhite models, respectively.
Four brands — Les Copains, Anrealage, Comme des Garçons and Undercover — inexcusably featured no models of color. Both Comme des Garçons and Undercover are repeat offenders. Given Comme head Rei Kawakubo’s elite industry status (she’s one of the few living designers to have been honored with a Met Costume Institute retrospective) and the fact that she is a woman of color, her exclusionary casting practices are particularly egregious.
Of the 11 models who racked up the most runway appearances this season, four were women of color: indigenous Australian model Charlee Fraser, Chinese model He Cong, Brazilian model Aira Ferreira and Korean model Yoon Young Bae.
Fraser (the most in-demand model at New York Fashion Week) shared the top spot with McKenna Hellam — each booked 50 major shows. Léa Julian came in second with 47 runway appearances. Third place went to Cara Taylor with 41 castings, followed closely by Emm Arruda with 40 and Cong with 39. Kiki Willems and Leah Rodl shared sixth place, walking 37 runways apiece. Ferreira, Lex Herl and Bae rounded out the list with 35 runway credits each. In the end, no transgender, plus-size or over-50 models made the top 11.
CHANGE IS IN THE AIR
Outside of New York, no city has seen a steady increase in over-50 model castings. The number of European plus-size castings has barely improved since Spring 2016 (this season, it stagnated). Even in London, where racial diversity on the runways was more prevalent than ever, model Leomie Anderson alleged that she’d been dropped from a show on the basis of her skin tone.
But the industry is headed in the right direction. It’s telling that Teddy Quinlivan felt comfortable coming out. It’s telling that the number of plus-size castings tripled, if only in New York. “I don’t think our work is done, but what I think is again interesting is having a younger blood in this business has changed the way things are seen,” James Scully told Paper. “I don’t think this season was more diverse because everyone was saying ‘let’s make it more diverse,’ I think it was because it was. I don’t see the pendulum swinging back because there was a reason why this happened in the first place. Fashion is represented by a lot of different people and now that they’re in the door, they’re going to keep that door open.”
Still, it can’t hurt to say it. Designers, casting directors: the Spring 2018 season was impressive, but let’s make Fall 2018 more diverse.
Additional reporting by Mark E.
Only women and non-binary models are included in this data. Models of color are categorized as those who are nonwhite or of mixed backgrounds. Fall 2017 collections that showed during the Spring 2018 season are included in this report.