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Ad Campaign Diversity Lags Behind the Runway This Season

A new study looking at the Spring 2017 ad campaigns confirms that the fashion industry still has a long way to go.
Backstage at the Michael Kors Spring 2017 show. Photo: Antonello Trio/Getty Images

Backstage at the Michael Kors Spring 2017 show. Photo: Antonello Trio/Getty Images

Diverse representation in fashion is far from where it should be, but the runway this past season gave advocates reason to hope. For the first time ever, every New York Fashion Week show featured at least one model of color, and even London, Paris and Milan, which are notoriously less diverse, saw improvements in race, age, size and transgender visibility. But a recent report from The Fashion Spot demonstrates that unfortunately, that increase in diversity on the runway didn't necessarily translate to ad campaigns this season.

The presence of nonwhite models in Spring 2017 ads increased by a mere 1.2 percent from the season before — 23.3 percent of models in Fall 2016 were nonwhite, increasing to 24.5 percent this season. Improvement is improvement, but considering the runway this past season, which saw 27.9 percent nonwhite models cast, the ad campaign figure is underwhelming. Of the seven models who booked the most print campaigns, only one of them, Mica Arganaraz, was nonwhite. Notable brands like Céline, Giorgio Armani and Alberta Ferretti all cast spring campaigns that featured at least five models without a single person of color among them.

Thankfully, the brands that did champion racial diversity in their campaigns this season went hard — Alexander Wang, Stella McCartney, Zara, Gap, Express and Net-a-Porter all cast at least 50 percent models of color. This season, Saint Laurent, which famously did not include a single model of color in its campaigns between 2001 and 2015, released a campaign in which four of five models were nonwhite. And while Gucci only cast one woman of color in its Spring 2017 campaign, its Pre-Fall 2017 campaign, released last month, featured 100 percent models of color.

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Urban Outfitters presented one of the most inclusive campaigns of this season, featuring not only models and influencers of color, but also a range of body sizes and two transgender models. Unfortunately, the body positivity displayed by Urban Outfitters was unusual for the season; only 2.3 percent of models represented in campaigns were plus size. Considering that many plus size models have seen runway opportunities increasing in recent seasons, this tiny ad campaign percentage shows that ads have a long way to go before they catch up with fashion week numbers (which are themselves ripe for even more improvement).

Models over the age of 50 were actually the least represented of the bunch this season, with only two campaigns featuring a model in this category; both campaigns also happened to feature the same model, Lauren Hutton. This marks the least age-diverse ad campaign season since The Fashion Spot began tracking the numbers in 2015. Transgender models saw increased visibility with four campaigns featuring trans models coming out this spring, marking a fourfold increase over a year ago, when only one was cast.

Despite some strides being made toward genuine diversity rather than tokenism, it looks like the advertising departments of fashion brands have their work cut out for them.

You can read the full Spring 2017 ad campaign diversity report over on The Fashion Spot.

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