The Spring 2019 Runways Were More Racially Diverse Than Ever — But There's Still Lots of Work to Be Done

Yes, there's good news in The Fashion Spot's latest diversity report, but also some important lessons for the industry.
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The Prabal Gurung Spring 2019 runway. Photo: Imaxtree

The Prabal Gurung Spring 2019 runway. Photo: Imaxtree

It's finally Friday, and we're pretty pleased to be able to report something positive: The Spring 2019 runways were the most racially diverse ever. What began with record-setting (in terms of model representation) New York castings did, in fact, extend to Europe, and all in all, runways exhibited diversity that came off as genuine, routine and baked-in, rather than tokenistic or as some kind of specific political exclamation point. 

The Fashion Spot released its seasonal diversity report for the Spring 2019 shows on Thursday evening, highlighting that the racial diversity on this season's runways outpaced what has ever been seen before. The spring runways saw historic gains for nonwhite, plus-size and transgender/non-binary models, and half of the top 10 models were women of color. The number of plus-size models on the runway doubled from the previous season, and there was an uptick in age diversity as well. But, the report also points out, there's still plenty of work to be done — particularly when it comes to age and body diversity, especially in the European fashion capitals.

Racial diversity on the runways reached an all-time high this season, with 36.1 percent of all castings across the various cities going to models of color, a noteworthy 3.6 increase over the Fall 2018 stat. New York, as is typically the case, led the pack in terms of racial diversity, with 44.8 percent models of color, a 7.5 percent increase from the previous season. 

A representation of the percent of models of color across all the runways in every city over the past several years. Graphic: Courtesy of The Fashion Spot

A representation of the percent of models of color across all the runways in every city over the past several years. Graphic: Courtesy of The Fashion Spot

London ranked second in racial diversity, featuring 36.2 percent models of color on its runways, a very slight increase over the previous season. In Paris, 32.4 percent of the models were people of color, while Milan, as usual, lagged behind at only 29.9 percent (still a 2-plus-percent increase over its ratio the previous season). "Milan is the only city that has yet to cast over 30 percent models of color on its runways," notes The Fashion Spot.

When it came to body diversity, the Spring 2019 shows were somewhat encouraging: Rebounding from a regressive season during which only 30 plus-size models appeared in 10 shows spanning all four cities during Fall 2018, this time around, there were 54 plus-size models in 15 shows, a significant spike (though still a glaring under-representation on the whole). Unfortunately, New York's pivot toward more size inclusivity hasn't extended overseas: Only three European brands made "any effort toward size inclusion," notes The Fashion Spot. In London, only one model over size 10 walked (Raisa Flowers for Nicholas Kirkwood); Milan featured three plus-size models, thanks to the Dolce & Gabbana show; and Paris featured just one, Jill Kortleve at Alexander McQueen. 

More encouraging were the strides made in gender diversity: The Spring 2019 shows featured a record 91 openly transgender or non-binary models, with designers in every city except Milan casting more models who identify as trans or non-binary than ever before. Those gains are especially striking when we consider that back in Spring 2016, when The Fashion Spot first began tracking gender identity on the runways, there were only six openly transgender or non-binary models.

Despite many promising gains in diversity, as always, the caveat remains that there is still work to be done. Of course, the runways have a ways to go toward becoming inclusive, and it's incredibly apparent that Europe, in particular, "still has a major age and body diversity problem," as The Fashion Spot aptly puts it. Moreover, there's something to be said about the diversity surrounding the runways, as well. It's not something TFS includes in its routine report, but as The New York Times's Vanessa Friedman wrote in a piece also published on Thursday, "What was true on the runway was not, necessarily, true behind it. The contrast between the diversity of the models and the uniformity of the people watching them was striking."

Friedman celebrates that, during the Spring 2019 season in particular, there was a palpable aura of progress — "We had reached a point of genuine change" — while also highlighting the need for that type of inclusivity and diversity throughout the industry, questioning why the "editors, retailers and decision makers" all remain overwhelmingly white. "The runway may have become the front line of diversity," writes Friedman, "but it definitely is not the end." 

Head to The Fashion Spot to read the full Spring 2019 diversity report.

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