Diversity on the Spring 2014 Runways: An Improvement, But Not an Overwhelming One

Racial diversity was a big story this fashion month, thanks in large part to The Diversity Coalition and Bethann Hardison, who, before NYFW kicked off, sent letters to the governing bodies of each of the four international fashion weeks (New York, London, Milan and Paris) calling for an end to runway racism and calling out specific designers in each city who were guilty of the "racist act" of failing to put people of color on their runways. The big question over these last few weeks has been, did it work? And, just generally, were the runways any less white this season? Overall, the answer seems to be that there was an improvement, but not a huge one.
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Racial diversity was a big story this fashion month, thanks in large part to The Diversity Coalition and Bethann Hardison, who, before NYFW kicked off, sent letters to the governing bodies of each of the four international fashion weeks (New York, London, Milan and Paris) calling for an end to runway racism and calling out specific designers in each city who were guilty of the "racist act" of failing to put people of color on their runways. The big question over these last few weeks has been, did it work? And, just generally, were the runways any less white this season? Overall, the answer seems to be that there was an improvement, but not a huge one.
Malaika Firth at Celine, Photo: Imaxtree

Malaika Firth at Celine, Photo: Imaxtree

Racial diversity was a big story this fashion month, thanks in large part to The Diversity Coalition and Bethann Hardison, who, before NYFW kicked off, sent letters to the governing bodies of each of the four international fashion weeks (New York, London, Milan and Paris) calling for an end to runway racism and calling out specific designers in each city who were guilty of the "racist act" of failing to put people of color on their runways.

The big question over these last few weeks has been, did it work? And, just generally, were the runways any less white this season? Overall, the answer seems to be that there was an improvement, but not a huge one.

We did a mini update half way through The Month, which revealed that both New York and London saw an increase in models of color on the runways, with many designers like Calvin Klein and Rag & Bone casting 6-8 models in their shows versus none or just a couple the season prior.

At the time, Hardison told us she was pleased with the improvement, but that, “Two, three, four [models of color] is nice. But not when there’s 30 girls. I’m very pleased with any improvement, and I say that respectfully.”

Next up was Milan and Paris, where Hardison predicted we'd see the least improvement. "In Milan, you don’t see black people. So there might be a reaction [among the general population there] like, whoa this is different. But at the same time, some of the most powerful design houses over there…I mean they’re global companies. Paris basically looks like Detroit now. There’s so many immigrants there. But, historically, they have an acquisition mentality. Paris will be the hardest nut to crack."

After spending some time scanning the collections of the Milan and Paris designers she called out in her letters, we imagine she'd be of the same mind now. [We reached out to her for comment on this story, and will update when we wear from her.] Both cities saw improvements, but nothing to write home about.

Milan was probably the most disappointing of all four fashion weeks (and has generally been seen as one of the worst offenders in terms of lacking runway diversity), with the exception of a few designers who seemed to be making an effort.

A few labels like Blumarine, Marco de Vincenzo, and No.21 only cast one model of color each. On average, though, many cast three to four. Jil Sander added one black model to its roster and, like last season, cast two Asian models. Several designers, including Alberta Ferretti, Antonio Marras, Gucci, and Iceberg cast four models of color: two black models and two Asian models each. In those cases, the evenness of the numbers felt a bit like they were filling a quota. Chanel Iman once told the Times of London, “A few times I got excused by designers who told me, ‘We already found one black girl. We don’t need you any more,’" so it's definitely something designers do.

Maria Borges opens Giorgio Armani, Photo: Imaxtree

Maria Borges opens Giorgio Armani, Photo: Imaxtree

On the other end of the spectrum in Milan were Giorgio Armani, Prada, Roberto Cavalli and Philipp Plein. There were six models of color at Emporio Armani, five at Giorgio Armani; five at Prada (versus one last season); and eight at Roberto Cavalli. Plein, you may recall, cast only black models in his show, in the interest of "doing the unexpected and shaking people from their complacence, forcing people to face the future where old prejudices have no place."

Paris saw small improvements as well. Kudos to Celine's Phoebe Philo (whom Hardison recently called out for having "never had a colored person showing in their collection. Ever."), who cast six non-white models, four of them black, versus last season's two Asians. Raf Simons' Dior runways have been called out for their whiteness until July's couture show, in which six black models were cast. For spring, there were six models of color, two of them black. At Chloé, there were five versus last season's one. Lanvin cast five versus last year's two. Louis Vuitton, Nina Ricci and Valentino each cast three.

The whitest shows? Haider Ackermann and Saint Laurent. The former cast one Asian and zero black models, while the latter cast only one black model, which was at least an improvement over last season's zero. The most improved was Alexander McQueen, whose show featured seven models of color after last season's all-white runway.

The most-used black model this season was indisputably Malaika Firth (aka the Prada model everyone was calling the next Naomi Campbell). She was everywhere in every city and is quickly becoming one of our favorites.

However, with the exceptions of Firth at Valentino and Maria Borges at Giorgio Armani, models of color almost never opened or closed shows. And, while we think Firth's career is only going to continue to blow up, there's nothing to confirm that this season's improvement will continue for seasons to come. "It seems like [non-white models] are only cast when it’s hot for one season and everyone jumps on board," Dunn told us recently. "It’s a look." Hardison echoed the sentiment: “In spring/summer you always include a little bit more [people of color]. Because you’re casting for a girl with a little bit more color. And that’s why I chose this season, it’s a good time to wake people up.”

We can only hope it worked.