Smack-dab in the middle of New York Fashion Week, a relatively unknown model and artist by the name of Ashley B. Chew became a front-runner in the fight for diversity in fashion — and she didn’t even say a word. She chose instead to make a silent protest by carrying a DIY leather tote that read “Black Models Matter,” inspired by the national Black Lives Matter movement that began in 2012. Within days, Ashley was labeled a street style sensation and #BlackModelsMatter became a trending hashtag. But how much of that important message hit home during Fashion Month?
For the Spring 2016 season, we crunched the numbers for 373 shows and 9,926 model appearances from New York, London, Paris and Milan and found that 77.6 percent of the time models were white. Although this figure is far from where it needs to be, it is slightly better than the 80 percent we reported for Fall 2015 and the 83 percent from the previous spring. Season for season, Asian, Black and Middle Eastern models all saw a minor bump in castings. The only models of color* that decreased were Latinas, who went from 2.9 percent for fall to 2.6 percent for spring.
In addition, the top model of Fashion Month turned out to be 19-year-old Dominican stunner Lineisy Montero. With a strong showing in all four Fashion Weeks, Lineisy ended up walking in 68 shows.***
When we broke down each Fashion Week, New York came out on top for diversity in every category — a trend we’ve seen for a few years now. Black models reached double digits at 10.7 percent, followed by Asian models at 8.7 percent and Latina models at 4.2 percent. The total percentage of models of color for New York increased from 24.4 percent to 28.4 percent.
In contrast, Milan landed at the bottom of the pile. Here, white models were hired at the highest rate (82.8 percent) while Black (6.5), Asian (6.3) and Latina (1.3) models were cast at the lowest. What’s more, Milan did not include any plus-size models, transgender models or models over the age of 50. In fact, it was the only city to not make it on the board in all three categories.
In terms of individual brands, Chromat had the most multicultural show of Fashion Month**. Out of 20 women, there were 14 models of color, which equates to a 70 percent diversity rating. Five of the models were black, four were Latina, three were Asian and two were classified as “other.” In second place, we had a tie between Tracy Reese and Sophie Theallet in New York; both runways were 60 percent diverse. As you may know, Reese is a longtime champion of diversity, but Theallet is a recent addition. She had previously showed up on our least diverse list for hiring one model of color out of 19 for Fall 2015, but has made vast improvements this season. And finally, rounding out the top three are Martin Grant and Rahul Mishra from Paris. Each designer cast models of color 50 percent of the time.
Despite the ongoing efforts to raise awareness about the inequality in the industry, many brands aren’t budging. Erdem, Nina Ricci, Roksanda, Giorgio Armani and Saint Laurent all hired just two models of color, making their runways less than 7 percent diverse. This season in particular, Valentino was called out by the media for staging an African-themed collection that was shown by predominantly white models in cornrows. And that wasn’t even the worst of it.
Body diversity is trailing far behind racial diversity. Plus-size models only accounted for .1 percent of the total. This number translates to 14 plus-size model appearances during the month — all of which came out of Addition Elle and Chromat in New York. Two models, Denise Bidot and Sabina Karlsson, walked in both shows.
It’s important to note here that a handful of New York-based brands that offer plus-size collections, like Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein Collection and Michael Kors, repeatedly choose not to represent this portion of their client base in shows or in print campaigns.
The ratio of transgender models on the runway for spring mirrors the landscape of Fall 2015 ad campaigns. Transgender models made up .06 percent of all model appearances. And half of these runway castings were in New York. Farideh Arbanian showed up at Hood By Air, Geena Rocero made a cameo at Carmen Marc Valvo and Ines Rau represented at Nicole Miller. Across the pond, Andreja Pejic walked for Giles in London; she was the only transgender model hired in the city for the entire week. Ditto for Valentijn de Hingh, who represented the transgender community in Paris at David Laport and Peet Dullaert.
Models over the age of 50 were the least represented group for Spring 2016. Four out of the five appearances took place in New York. Most notably, two black supermodels re-emerged on the catwalk. Veronica Webb walked for Theallet and Pat Cleveland took a turn down Elie Tahari’s runway. There were also appearances at VFiles and Eckhaus Latta in New York and Nehera in Paris. Collectively, this group of models made up .05 percent of the total.
Despite slight gains, it’s clear the fashion industry has a long way to go on the road to equality. In September, renowned activist and former supermodel Bethann Hardison spoke to a New York audience about balancing diversity in the industry. “I noticed that when I took my foot off the gas for about three years, everything went completely backward,” she said. “Now I realize it’s got to stay on. I’ve gotta keep calling people out. You gotta keep nudging them.”
With additional reporting by Elena Drogaytseva.
*Models of color were categorized as those who appear to be nonwhite or of mixed backgrounds. Models included in the Latin category are classified as nonwhite Latins that do not appear to be strongly Afro-Latin.
**Although Kanye West continues to cast diverse shows each season, we were unable to include his Spring 2016 show in our analysis since all of his models could not be identified.
***UPDATE: A previous version of this report incorrectly stated that Lineisy Montero made runway history by becoming the first model of color to rank number one in a season. However, model Liu Wenn walked a record 74 shows during the Fall 2009 season.