As the fashion industry makes strides toward embracing gender fluidity in campaigns, a progressive shift is finally beginning to reflect on the runway.
Transgender and gender non-binary models made 31 runway appearances — comprised of 28 transgender and three non-binary castings — during New York Fashion Week, up from 12 during the spring shows in February, according to The Fashion Spot. (The report also found that this was NYFW’s most inclusive season to-date across all categories, including race, size, age and gender.) The rise of transgender visibility was bolstered in part by model Teddy Quinlivan, who came out as transgender in a video she posted on Instagram at the end fashion week, following 11 appearances in shows for Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta, among others.
All told, 15 transgender and 3 gender non-binary models made runway appearances. That’s out of a total of 976 models, amounting to just 1.64 percent –– a meager percentage to be sure, but a promising gain for industry members fighting for LGBTQ representation.
“I remember living my whole life as male, but feeling like I was playing a part,” she said in the video. “I always knew I was female in my heart, my soul, my brain. I knew I had to pretend to be male to appease everyone else.”
Now, more than ever before, transgender voices are being celebrated in fashion, from Hari Nef’s ever-expanding work with brands including Gucci to the recent launch of Zand Wagon, a modeling agency developed to help cast more LGBTQ models in fashion campaigns and runway shows. At the same time, designer are being vocal about the need to show more diverse faces on the runway. Among them is Leanne Marshall, who said in an interview before her NYFW show that she has continued to push for increased inclusion in her shows.
“Our world is diverse, and why wouldn’t I want to show my garments on a wide range of different bodies and ethnicities? We, at some point, had a trans model for today’s show but [she had to drop]. We really want to emphasize that these clothes are for everybody,” she said.
In addition to gains in visibility for transgender models, the report found that 37 percent of all model castings included models of color — up from 32 percent in February — as well as a record-breaking number of plus-size model appearances, with a total of 90 at 12 shows. (Meanwhile, the appearance of models over age 50 increased modestly, with a total of 10, up from eight last season.)
Jennifer Davidson, editor of The Fashion Spot, said that while Quinlivan played a significant role in the increased representation, it’s also indicative of a larger cultural shift toward acceptance of transgender individuals. As more Americans see transgenderism portrayed in media and on television (through the success of critically acclaimed series like “Transparent” and the success of media personalities like Janet Mock), inclusion has permeated across all industries, including fashion.
“Having such a high-profile, successful model come out as transgender had a big impact on the data,” she said. “More importantly, the last couple of years have been incredible for transgender visibility — not just in fashion, but in television, film and the world in general. This has certainly translated to the runways.”
Transgender model Leyna Bloom walks the Chromat runway
However, Kayvon Zand, founder of the agency Zand Wagon, said he still finds the comparatively low representation to be troubling, even more so since a majority of the featured transgender models were white. (The Fashion Spot found that 10 out of the 31 transgender and non-binary castings included women of color.)
“The irony is most of fashion comes from these cultures in the streets and clubs, and yet is appropriated and white-washed for white cis women to strut down the catwalk,” he said. “Trans and non-binary models, especially of color, are still very much overshadowed and underrepresented, not only in fashion but in media generally. We still have a very long way to go.”
Looking to the future, Davidson said she anticipates the number of transgender models on the runway will only continue to rise.
“The numbers may already be much higher than we think,” she said. “I can only imagine there are other models like Teddy [Quinlivan] who prefer to present as cisgender. Whether they decide to come out or not is a personal decision. In the meantime, the more fashion celebrates the diversity of all of us, the better we all are for it.”