Another fashion month has come and gone, and with it came a larger push toward diversity than we’ve seen in seasons past. “The runway felt more inclusive in terms of age, size, gender and religion,” said Steven Kolb, the president and CEO of the CFDA (which reinforced its Health and Diversity Guidelines once more with a pre-season memo).
Indeed — perhaps due to the tense political climate that both the U.S. and its international counterparts are embroiled in — many designers (ranging from Michael Kors to Simone Rocha) were inspired to use their lofty platforms to celebrate women of all kinds. But given how feeble past industry efforts have been to diversify, what we saw in the past few weeks at the Fall 2017 shows was by no means groundbreaking. Instead, it was another step forward on a path that’s growing increasingly tedious in today’s world.
Brands would do well to make a more concerted, consistent effort in matters of diversity — and not just for empathy’s sake. The latest Multicultural Economy Report from the University of Georgia’s Terry School of Business found that minority buying power is growing at a much faster pace than that of whites. The combined buying power of blacks, Asians and Native Americans was estimated to be 2.2 trillion in 2016, up 138 percent since 2000, compared to an increase of just 79 percent for whites.
Nielsen’s first comprehensive study on the buying habits of multicultural millennials also found them to spend more than $65 billion each year and wield influence over at least $1 trillion in consumer spending. Put simply: Embracing these communities will be necessary for business.
Below, we highlight the Fall 2017 season’s diversity wins and weigh how much progress was actually made with industry insiders.
A strong start in New York
As has long been the case, the New York shows kicked fashion month off on a particularly diverse note. The Fashion Spot’s recurring diversity report found that every show featured at least one model of color, and it became the second-most diverse NYFW ever, with 31.5 percent non-white models (trailing very close behind the Fall 2016 season, which boasted 31.9 percent).
Longtime advocates for inclusivity like Chromat and Gypsy Sport featured a diverse array of models, including plus-size model Candice Huffine and the albino activist Diandra Forrest, respectively. Huffine also walked for Christian Siriano and Tome. At Prabal Gurung, she walked alongside another curvy model, Marquita Pring, signaling a larger effort to embrace different body types that was compounded by Ashley Graham’s NYFW debut at Michael Kors (his first use of a plus-size model).
Muslim model Halima Aden in the Yeezy fall 2017 show
Halima Aden, a Muslim ex–Miss USA contestant who recently signed with IMG Models, made her career debut at Yeezy to much fanfare, representing a group that is still largely ignored by the industry.
Designers like Brandon Maxwell and Tracy Reese continued their past efforts to celebrate women of color, with the latter including the poets Aja Monet and Leslie Reese in her show. The Row, which had no models of color in its show last season, showed a slight improvement, with three models of color including veteran Alek Wek.
Marc Jacobs closed out the week well with a hip-hop–inspired show, which included a cast that was almost half-black and included transgender models like Casil McArthur and Stav Strashko.
The focus turns to age in London
London Fashion Week kicked off with a protest by a group of older models who were angry at the industry’s lack of inclusion. Led by former model Jilly Johnson, the crowd of women ages 45 and older gathered outside the week’s main venue with signs that read “Stop ageism at LFW” and “Fashion has no age limit.”
Model Marie Sophie Wilson-Carr in the Simone Rocha fall 2017 show
Ironically, the London shows would go on to embrace age better than the rest. Simone Rocha sent famed British models, like the 50-year-old Cecilia Chancellor and 70-year-old Jan de Villeneuve, down her runway, to much fanfare. Gareth Pugh followed suit, featuring a collection of “activists, artists and outliers” that included the 39-year-old model Erin O’ Connor and the ’80s fashion icon Scarlett Cannon. Osman Yousefzada, who has been a diversity proponent since launching his line Osman in 2008, did the same, opening his show with veteran model Erika Wall.
Other noteworthy moments included vitiligo activist Winnie Harlow’s appearance in the Julien Macdonald show and the Teatum Jones show, which featured two models with disabilities.
Milan finally makes some strides
Milan is known for being the least diverse of the fashion weeks, but it made significant progress to thwart that this season. Dolce & Gabbana cast a diverse range of friends and family that included African-American model Amanda Harvey opening the show with her husband and two toddlers, and Jamie Foxx’s daughter, Corinne. Halima Aden reappeared after her NYFW debut at both Alberta Ferretti and Max Mara, two brands who are certainly not known for their efforts towards inclusion.
Bottega Veneta carried on the ageism torch from London, sending out more mature models like Eva Herzigova, Liu Wen and Joan Smalls, while Missoni embraced diverse newcomers like Manuela Sanchez and Elibeidy Danis, who both hail from the Dominican Republic.
It wasn’t all good news, of course. Gucci, which showed a whopping 119 looks, made a paltry effort — only 19 of them were worn by models of color.
Amanda Harvey and family in the Dolce & Gabbana fall 2017 show
Diversity drama ups the ante in Paris
Paris Fashion Week started off on the wrong foot when famed casting agent James Scully accused the team behind Balenciaga’s casting — Maida Gregori Boina and Rami Fernandes — of racist, inhumane treatment of the models. He also called out Lanvin for rumors that they were not looking to see any women of color this season.
Balenciaga subsequently fired the duo and promised to make “radical changes to the casting process.” Its show –which featured four black models, five asian models and the Indian up-and-comer Radhika Nair — didn’t disappoint, but as with most, it could have been better.
Dries Van Noten’s 100th anniversary show functioned as a welcome “tribute to women of all ages and races,” and featured the designer’s favorite models of all time. That long list was truly diverse and included a host of non-white, older models like Alek Wek, Liya Kebede, Yasmin Warsame and Hye Park.
Miu Miu finally stepped it up in the diversity department, too, with a lineup that included up-and-comers like the Cayman-born Aaliyah Hydes. Designer Miuccia Prada stated the very-obvious to WWD afterwards: “It’s the first time we really got into different beauties.”
Chanel, on the other hand — which had enough time and resources to launch a rocket at their show — didn’t manage to feature more than four models of color in its 98-look show.
Kristina de Connick opening the Dries Van Noten fall 2017 show
Progress or… pathetic?
Industry insiders are conflicted over how much progress was actually made at the shows. Jym Benzing, a casting director who worked with brands like Banana Republic and Engineered for Motion this season, told Glossy that there’s still no major sense of urgency when it comes to diversifying show casts, though he noted that he and his casting colleagues have found clients to be more aware of the need.
Gary Dakin, who co-founded JAG Models with Jaclyn Sarka to cater to women of all sizes, did sense what he called a sea change. “There was definitely a higher demand this season,” he said, adding that it “jumped leaps and bounds ahead of previous seasons.” But he was reluctant to be too celebratory. “I will call it a success when we no longer even think about it and just see women of all sizes and ethnicities on the runways, without it being newsworthy,” he said.
Nafisa Kaptownwala, the founder of Lorde models, is equally ambivalent. “There is still so much more work for the industry to do,” she said. “Equity is a constant process.”
But according to Jennifer Davidson, the editor-in-chief of The Fashion Spot, you can’t deny this season’s progress, even if it seems lame in the grand scheme of things. “Based on the preliminary findings of our semi-annual diversity report (which publishes this week), this was the most diverse season ever in terms of models of color, plus-size women, older women (over age 50) and transgender women across all cities,” she said.