Diversity has long been lacking on fashion show runways, but significant improvements have been made this season. Labels in New York and Europe have taken care to make their casts more inclusive, and we've seen an uptick in models of color, a wider range of body types, a broader spectrum of gender identities and women well into their 50s, 60s and 70s walking in the fall 2016 shows. Of course, not all designers are interested in acknowledging the breadth and diversity of their customer bases; take Demna Gvasalia, the head designer of Vetements who also made his debut as artistic director at Balenciaga on Sunday.
While both of Gvasalia's latest collections were praised for their streetwise sensibilities and their au courant attitude and silhouettes, his runway shows in Paris also earned some less-than-positive attention for their casts, both of which consisted solely of white models. On Thursday, the Vetements show featured men and women with unconventional looks, haphazard hairstyles and the über-hip, super-skinny aesthetic that comes to mind when one thinks of the label. Sure, they may have been "on-brand," but it was problematic to exclude non-white models, not to mention inconsiderate of the brand's many fans and customers of different races.
The model lineup at Gvasalia's first Balenciaga show was equally disappointing, and perhaps even more homogenous than that of Vetements. While his designs were met with mixed reviews from critics, former artistic director Alexander Wang did diversify casting somewhat during his stint at the French house, most memorably in his fall 2015 show, where he gave up-and-coming black models (Aamito Stacie Lagum, Amilna Estevão, Leila Nda) time in the spotlight.
It's likely that most of the dialogue surrounding Gvasalia's fall 2016 offerings will skew positive, with their lack of diversity seen, unfortunately, as an afterthought. Sure, the designer is known for casting his friends (like his stylist Lotta Volkova and fellow streetwear designer Gosha Rubchinskiy) and people off the street, but that's all the more reason to have cast a wider representation of races. Sending the message, deliberately or not, that these "cool kids" can only be white isn't only inaccurate, but it also marks a step back for the industry, which has slowly but surely been making progress on the diversity front.