The Fall 2015 fashion show season ended last week. There were enumerable ideas from New York to Paris — boob bags, peroxide blondes, K.A.N.Y.E. W.E.S.T., face tats, "Victorian cholas," Zoolander product placements. But did diversity in design translate to diversity on the runways? Year after year, report after report prove that most designers hire white models.
Oh, a smattering of models of color stomped for the Fall 2015 season, sure, but when such a thing occurred, it made headlines, due to it being just that rare. Three black models opened Balenciaga! Balmain had a glorified UN Assembly of a show! Did you see Prada?! Four dyed-in-the-wool brown girls on Mother Miuccia's stage! Naomi Campbell closed Zac Posen's whole shit down! So infrequent was the casting of models of color on Fall 2015's runways, I began counting them. More specifically, I began tallying all the models of color who opened or closed a show — a rarefied and coveted position for any model, both established and new — as I felt this could tell me even more about whether a designer was doing their part in changing the industry's course on diversity.
Why exactly? Well, for starters, opening and closing a designer's show suggests that the woman in question sets the show's whole tone. She starts a designer's proverbial sentence and perfectly punctuates the message the clothes attempt to convey. But even more, a model's position within the industry can get considerable buzz from editors, buyers, and stylists; as more eyes will be fixed on the first and last looks to appear on a runway. The bigger the model the bigger the buzz, while alternatively, a new face can inspire mystery, curiosity, and clout for the runway rookie. These positions denote value and rank that is both given and perceived.
Analyzing every fashion show on Style.com this season allowed me to determine that, while the fashion game has no dearth of talent to pull from, the impulse to cast models of color is slow to come.
Designers who cast models of color to open or close their Fall 2015 shows: Zero + Maria Cornejo, Zac Posen, VFiles, Tracy Reese, Yeohlee, Rodarte, Tome, Rag & Bone, Christian Siriano, Costello Tagliapetra, Diane von Furstenberg, Telfar, Rosie Assoulin, Custo Barcelona, Porsche Design, Lela Rose, Misha Nonoo, Adidas x Kanye West, Kaelen, Kate Spade, DKNY, Sophie Theallet, Creatures of the Wind, The Row
I noticed that New York was obviously the most diverse in its casting, easily beating out London, Milan, and even Paris, with designers like Zac Posen, Tome, and Rag & Bone literally sending out an artillery of models of color onto their respective runways. What could have accounted for this trend? It's hard to say, but by the time Fashion Month moved to London I began to notice that the biggest models of color weren't even really walking this season.
Joan Smalls, Jourdan Dunn, Chanel Iman: some of the biggest names in modeling, but they made themselves scarce this season. Perhaps the modeling juggernauts realized more money comes with advertisements and print, rather the runway. This absence did allow for newcomers like Anna Cleveland — the daughter of 70s runway legend, Pat Cleveland —to take centerstage, the stunner dramatically sauntering and careening down Giles' runway to close the show.
Designers who cast models of color to open or close their Fall 2015 show: Versace, Phillipp Plein, Dolce & Gabbana, Marcelo Buron County of Milan
Nothing to see here folks. No, but like really. Models of color were only peppered about the Milan shows, while Italian designers like DSquared put on one of the season's most culturally offensive shows in their hometown — it a tone deaf "ode to America's native tribes meets the noble spirit of Old Europe." The saving grace of Milan Fashion Week? Azealia Banks, hater of "fat white Americans," brought the house down at Phillipp Plein in an onstage performance at the start of the show, while badass Teen Vogue cover model Binx Walton opened and lead the #pleinwarriors down the catwalk. And yes, Miuccia Prada shocked fashionistas by casting four models of color on her runway this season, which has historically been an awfully racially homogenous venue. It's hard to qualify four non-white faces as an accomplishment in 2015, especially for such a talented designer and staunch feminist as she, but it's a start we're happy to see.
Designers who cast models of color to open or close their Fall 2015 shows: John Galliano, Balmain, Stella McCartney, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, Christophe Lemaire, Longchamp, Isabel Marant, Issey Miyake, Talbot Runhof, Juan Carlos Obando, Aganovich, Martin Grant
In Paris, there was a noticeable uptick of designers using a more and more diverse cast of models. Alexander Wang started his Balenciaga show with three models of color, while Balmain's Olivier Rousteing practically sent an international caravan of faces down his runway. Stella McCartney closed with newcomer Lineisy Montero Feliz and Hermès opened and closed with Grace Bol. What's so significantly different between Paris and Milan that allowed for these casting choices? I can't be entirely sure, but I noticed that designers who have close relationships with women of color in their personal lives — women they consider their muses and BFFs, like Zoë Kravitz and Alexander Wang, Rihanna with Olivier Rousteing (Balmain) and Stella McCartney, Liya Kebede and Nicholas Ghesquière (Louis Vuitton) — seemed to reflect a more diverse spectrum of faces on their runways. It's just a theory, but if true, it's amazing to see how diversity can change one's outlook on beauty, inclusion, and yes, business. Just take Liya Kebede, who was the very last model of the very last show during Fashion Month: She closed Louis Vuitton, one of the oldest luxury design houses. It's a bold, promising last image for the brand, for luxury, and for the season.
Though some designers didn't open or close their shows with women of color, many had a great, steady stream of them in their cast, which is worth mentioning. Those types of production decisions seemed to tackle this idea of "tokenism" head on, and suggest that diversity can be seamlessly interwoven into a show.
To be honest, it seems inane to have break down diversity on runways in 2015, seeing as industry insiders and bigwigs like Bethann Hardison and CFDA President, Diane von Furstenberg, have spoken to this issue for years now and demanded for designers to adhere to more inclusive casting tactics. While the tide does seem to be changing — what with Rihanna just being tapped as Christian Dior's first black female spokesmodel, Vogue's March 2015 twelve-page spread that featured an all black cast of six upcoming faces, and March alone seeing six black women featured on major mainstream American publications — there is still an undercurrent of resistance to change. And until runways portray an assorted representation of beauty and idea of who a luxury consumer could be, casting decisions remain worth examining.
Images via Getty, AP.
Marjon Carlos is a style and culture writer for Fusion who boasts a strong turtleneck game and opinions on the subjects of fashion, gender, race, pop culture, and men's footwear.