The fight for more diversity on Fashion Week runways, led by former model Bethann Hardison and voiced by many others, has been a long one; and year after year, the improvements made are marginal at best. Maybe a designer casts a couple of non-white models instead of zero.
But this season, with some exceptions of course, we've noticed an actual change. The mostly black casting — including OG supermodels Naomi Campbell and Veronica Webb — was probably the best thing about Kanye West's Yeezy Season 3 show, and Rihanna, Sophie Theallet and Chromat's Becca McCharen have all contributed to an increase in non-white models on the runways at New York Fashion Week. But the strongest statement so far was made by Zac Posen, whose model lineup on Monday night was comprised almost entirely of gorgeous models of color like Aya Jones, Aamito Lagum, Cindy Bruna, Riley Montana and Grace Bol.
Interestingly, the show was cast by Maida & Rami, an agency that has been criticized in the past for the lack of diversity in its model choices on big name runways like Jil Sander, Christian Dior and Raf Simons.
Posen was inspired by Princess Elizabeth of Toro, a Ugandan lawyer who became the first East African woman to be admitted to the English bar. She was also a successful model and covered American Vogue in 1968, and was briefly the foreign minister of Uganda in the 1970s. Black or white, she was an accomplished and beautiful woman — a perfect point of inspiration for a fashion designer. In his show notes, Posen noted her "kind nature, stunning appearance and exceptional intellect."
Otherwise, there was no mention of the casting decision — just an explanation of the "study of couture geometrics of the 1930's" that was Posen's starting point for the clothes, made up of bias-cut dresses in embroidered cotton, and jewel tones with grays and saturated blues mixed in. The collection was lovely and, thanks to Posen's use of more lightweight fabrics in looser silhouettes, more casual than last season's eveningwear — but no less timeless.
The casting part of the equation felt more like a statement than a publicity stunt, and we hope it inspires Posen's fellow designers to follow suit. Non-white models are out there, and they deserve to be cast. And one could argue that as Fashion Week becomes more consumer-facing, it's even more important for a more diverse assortment of races, ages and body types to be represented.
See Posen's entire fall 2016 collection below.