11:50 am - 02/19/2013

Fashion Week’s Models Are Getting Whiter

The Fall-Winter 2013 shows have just finished up in New York. This season saw 151 shows and live presentations during fashion week's eight days — making it the biggest and busiest NYFW we've ever covered. But it wasn't very racially diverse.

This season, 151 New York designers' shows were covered by Style.com. Those shows presented 4479 individual women's wear "looks" to buyers and press, representing 4479 opportunities for a model to walk the runway or pose in a presentation. 3706 of those looks, or 82.7%, were this season shown on white models. Asian models nabbed 409, or 9.1% of all the runway looks. Black models were hired for 270, or 6%. Non-white Latina models had 90 looks, or 2%. Models of other races wore 7, or 0.2% of all looks.

Fourteen companies — Araks, Assembly, Belstaff, Calvin Klein, Elizabeth & James, Gregory Parkinson, Holmes & Yang, J Brand, Jenni Kayne, Juicy Couture, Louise Goldin, Lyn Devon, Threeasfour, and Whit — had no models of color at all. The brands Araks, Calvin Klein, Elizabeth & James, and Louise Goldin didn't hire any non-white models last season, either. That means this season, around 9% of all NYFW shows had all-white casts. That's up slightly from last season, when only 6% of shows had only white models. For comparison, in 2007, one-third of NYFW shows were all-white.

Designers that had more racial diversity included 3.1 Phillip Lim, Anna Sui, Badgley Mischka, Costello Tagliapietra, Diane von Furstenberg, J. Crew, Jason Wu, Jeremy Scott, Jonathan Simkhai, Mara Hoffman, Naeem Khan, Nicole Miller, Rebecca Taylor, Suno, Tracy Reese, Yeohlee, and Zac Posen.

This season marks the fifth year that we've collected this information, but I must admit that every time we finish one of these reports I'm left with questions, many of which are the same ones that I wrestled with nine seasons ago. Why does a huge global brand like Calvin Klein, whose multi-tiered business model depends on people from all corners of the globe wanting to see themselves in its logo, always appear to care so little about racial diversity at fashion week? Why does one mass-market contemporary label — J. Crew — apparently put so much effort into hiring a multi-ethnic cast of models, when others — Elizabeth & James, J Brand — do not? At the high end, why are Oscar de la Renta's and Diane von Furstenberg's shows so racially diverse, while Michael Kors' and Vera Wang's aren't? Why are some of New York's talented younger designers — Jason Wu, Prabal Gurung, Phillip Lim, Zac Posen — hiring so many more models of color than their just-as-buzzed-about peers like Alexander Wang, Proenza Schouler, and Rodarte? Why do so many fashion brands still treat racial diversity as optional, or a matter of taste?

I have a few theories why this season's numbers show NYFW to be a few percentage points less racially diverse than the last two seasons have been. One is that it's the fall season, and we have noted a slight swing from more racial diversity in the casting for the spring shows to less in the fall shows. (Casting directors have told me in the past that there's a belief on the part of some designers that bright spring colors look better on non-white skin tones than fall and winter hues.) The other is simply that a few relatively prominent models of color didn't walk NYFW this season, and with jobs for non-white models being already so scarce, the absence of even a handful of such models has a relatively big impact on the season's overall numbers. Latina models like Mariana Santana and Catalina Llanes, who both walked a bunch of shows last September, didn't do NYFW this season. Nor did the St. Helenian model Rea Triggs, the black models Genesis Vallejo and Senait Gidey, or the North African models Hind Sahli and Hanaa ben Abdesslem, or Tara Gill and Jenny Albright, who are both part Native American, to name a few.

There are many negative effects of the industry's preference for white skin — within fashion, it forces models of color to compete against each other for the one or two runway spots that might go to a non-white girl, it provides downward pressure on non-white models' wages, and it makes agencies less willing to invest in models of color, given that fewer opportunities mean a lower lifetime earning potential. And outside the industry — because the models who rise to the top of the heap doing runway are the models who go on to do the magazine covers, the cosmetics campaigns, the luxury brand ads, the billboards, and the TV commercials that girls all over the world can't help but grow up consuming — it promotes the idea that beauty means having white skin.

As I've written before, the conversation about racial diversity in fashion is a large and complex one, of which data like these are only one small part. It's difficult to quantify a problem like high fashion's demonstrated preference for white skin. Race is a social construct, after all, not a fact. And our "categories" — black, Asian, non-white Latina, and what we for lack of a better term call "other" — are not perfect. Racial diversity is only one way in which the fashion industry — and, by extension, our cultural ideas about what and who gets to be beautiful — could stand to broaden. There's also age, sexual orientation, and, most obviously, size. Despite our imperfect methods, we do this census every season because we believe it's helpful to put anecdote and reportage in the context of actual numbers. If we acknowledge that the overwhelming whiteness of fashion's imagery is a problem, then trying to measure that problem can be the first step towards solving it.

tigersnap 19th-Feb-2013 05:58 pm (UTC)
I feel like this chart is meaningless if you don't know what percentage of non-white models exist or are out there TRYING to get jobs.
robotpotatoes 19th-Feb-2013 05:59 pm (UTC)
omg a very good point i didn't think about... what if like only 90 out of 100 latina models got jobs... its a very good statistic.
blueboatdreams 19th-Feb-2013 06:03 pm (UTC)
Lbr that is not true. That statistic would be true for white aspiring models, but it would be more like 5 out of every 100 Latina or Black models.
jbants 20th-Feb-2013 07:26 pm (UTC)
Uh, this is not true at all.
tigersnap 19th-Feb-2013 06:04 pm (UTC)
Right, plus it wouldn't make sense if the percentages of models divided according to race were all totally even. like 25% black, white, hispanic, asian. that wouldn't make sense because that's not how our population is.

not saying there is no discrimination but that this chart is not the best way to determine how much racial discrimination there is
blueboatdreams 19th-Feb-2013 06:08 pm (UTC)
I think your point just distracts from the truth that the fashion industry is just racist period. Because guess what? Whites are not 82% of the population. I would rather have all equal that disproportionately white.

Basically your point is moot.
hahahey 19th-Feb-2013 06:02 pm (UTC)
even if you don't know, common sense will tell you that there are more than 9% Asians, 6% blacks, and 2% asians trying to get into the modeling industry, come on now
tigersnap 19th-Feb-2013 06:15 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure why that would be common sense. I know nothing about how many women or men of various ethnicities are pursuing modeling careers. I'm not saying there is no discrimination though. I"m sure there is. It's just that I don't think this chart is the greatest example of how much discrimination or at what level non-white models are not being given jobs because of their race. It makes it look like there is more discrimination than maybe there is.

82% white vs. 2% hispanic sounds extreme when you put them back to back, but putting it in conjunction with racial percentages of models it would make it a lot more accurate.

Like maybe it would be something like 65% of white models are getting jobs compared to 45% of hispanic models. I'm making that stat up, but that would be a better way to showcase how much discrimination there is.
jbants 20th-Feb-2013 07:27 pm (UTC)
In comparison to how many caucasian women honestly think they can get into the industry, I honestly think you're wrong.
ms_mmelissa 19th-Feb-2013 06:03 pm (UTC)
Yeah, this.
_marquis 19th-Feb-2013 06:07 pm (UTC)
no. more like white models are way more likely to get signed by big agencies, and subsequently get more jobs.
tigersnap 19th-Feb-2013 06:20 pm (UTC)
yes, actually what i'm saying is true. i didn't say there is no discrimination. what i said is this chart is not an accurate reflection of how much discrimination there is against specific non-white models. if you take a statistics class or just think about it logically you can understand that.
rogue 19th-Feb-2013 06:48 pm (UTC)
i think that would def drive the point home since there are MANY, MANY, MANY non-white models out there trying to get jobs. i think that extra statistic would just be a slap in ignorant racist and apologist faces.
vacatia 19th-Feb-2013 08:57 pm (UTC)
I feel like they also need to do a chart for the other fashion weeks, even as I've been scrolling through the London shows I feel like I've seen quite a few black models (could be wrong). I feel like NY is always super white :/
inhibiting 20th-Feb-2013 06:49 pm (UTC)
No you are right. London fashion week I generally nicer to us women of color. Same goes for Paris but not so much Milan. It's the worst
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