New York Fashion Week Is Moving Backwards When it Comes to Size and Gender Inclusivity

Racial diversity, however, continued to improve.
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Models with designer Becca McCharen-Tran and casting director Gilleon Smith at Chromat's Fall 2019 show. Photo: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Chromat

Models with designer Becca McCharen-Tran and casting director Gilleon Smith at Chromat's Fall 2019 show. Photo: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Chromat

Each season, we nervously await The Fashion Spot's diversity reports, which almost act as mile markers on the long road to a genuinely diverse and inclusive fashion month. Did we move forward, stay in the same place or, worst case, go backwards?

The site released the results for the Fall 2019 New York Fashion Week runways on Tuesday and, in terms of racial diversity, we did move forward — one percentage point. This season, 45.8 percent of the models cast in New York were women of color, while last season it was 44.8 percent. Still, that's nearly half, and as TFS points out, we're not likely to see big jumps from season to season anymore as diverse runways become more normal in New York: It was the fifth season in a row during which each runway had at least one model of color, and one-third (about 25 out of 77) of show lineups were made up of at least 50 percent models of color. Progress is progress: It was only four years ago that NYFW runways were only 20.9 percent racially diverse.

The report also found that models of color were especially booked and busy this season: Nine of New York's 10 most-booked models were women of color, including Nigerian-born Mayowa Nicholas, Korean model Hyun Ji Shin, Chinese-Nigerian model Adesuwa Aighewi, Chinese model Sijia Kang and East London native Hannah Shakespeare, who all booked at least 12 shows.

Unfortunately, while last season's NYFW diversity improvements were seen across the board, that wasn't the case this time. Despite progress in racial inclusivity, there were declines in both plus-size and transgender model appearances: down from 49 to 37 and 53 to 29, respectively.

On the plus-size front, the report excluded 11 Honoré's one-off show that featured 35 models above size 12, while the designers who did hire plus-size models were primarily ones who've been championing size diversity for at least a few seasons, like Christian Siriano, Chromat and Prabal Gurung. Otherwise, most designers simply continued their practices of hiring straight-size models exclusively.

The decline in trans and non-binary model appearances was also particularly disheartening, given that Spring 2019 was something of a landmark season for gender inclusivity; several designers who did hire trans or non-binary faces last season — including Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler and Kate Spade New York — evidently failed to this time around. Though, it's worth noting trans and non-binary models are not always "out" or publicized, nor should they have to be.

On a more positive note, though, TFS did find improvements when it came to intersectionality — an area that designers often overlook, tending to cast models that fit only one type of diversity criteria instead of multiple (i.e. hiring a trans model or a plus-size model, rather than including a trans plus-size model in the mix). This season, more designers seemed to take intersectionality into consideration: More than two-thirds of plus-size models cast were women of color and there was even a rare over-50 plus-size appearance by Emme (at Chromat), and trans plus-size model appearance by Jari Jones (at Gypsy Sport).

Speaking of over-50 model appearances, there were only 15 total, three more than last season. And many of those were at brands led by younger designers like Eckhaus Latta, Collina Strada, Creatures of the Wind, Maryam Nassir Zadeh and Chromat.

While many of the newer NYFW mainstays understand the importance of representation and diversity and even have it engrained in their DNA, it's clear — especially after recent missteps by Prada and Gucci — that it's time for the more established houses to shake things up. Chances are that will become even more clear as the bookings from London, Milan and Paris Fashion Week are tallied in the coming weeks, as New York is routinely the most diverse of all the cities.

See The Fashion Spot's full NYFW diversity report here

Note: The original version of this article was updated to remove Prabal Gurung from The Fashion Spot's list of designers who cast a trans model last season but not this season, per a correction by a rep for the brand that there was in fact a trans person present on Gurung's Fall 2019 runway, and to clarify that such castings are not always evident.

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