We fill in the gaps of Jezebel’s biannual report on the number of white models who participated in New York Fashion Week, and make a few notes of our own.
Above: Victoria Beckham‘s much-praised Spring 2014 collection. Note the lack of models of colour.
Thank goodness for Jezebel and their ongoing project of meticulously counting the number of models of colour who are hired for New York Fashion Week, completed by their reporters Phoenix Tso, Callie Beusman, Tanisha Love Ramirez, Kate Dries, and Dodai Stewart (names are important, give credit where credit is due). Their latest report, based on the NYFW shows for the Spring 2014 collections that were just under two weeks ago shows that white models made up 79.89% of all models sent down the catwalks. Jezebel says this is a number that has changed very little since 2008.
Their efforts are not to be mistaken with Bethann Hardison’s project to diversify the runway, which we did a four-part series on last week. Hardison took an even bigger project on, looking at all of the Fall 2013 fashion shows not just in New York, but London, Milan, and Paris as well, openly calling out designers who did not hire black models for their shows. Her results were released on Sept. 6th. Between Hardison and Jezebel’s efforts, both projects show that fashion week has a serious problem with racism.
Let’s take a closer look at Jezebel’s report.
Hardison’s Concerns with Colorism Addressed?
In our 2nd instalment of our four-part series in response to Hardison’s project, we noted that Hardison seemed to be concerned with colorism more than anything, noting that not all “models of colour” could be represented by Asian models, there needed to be a diversity of skin tones as well.
Jezebel’s project also looked at skin tone, and this year found that for the Spring ’14 shows at least, representations of black and Asian models were pretty even: 8.08% and 8.1%, respectively.
Who is Still Missing from the Catwalk?
Lots of ethnicities, actually. Jezebel made notes on black, Asian, white, and Latina models, but admit that they saw almost no (or in some cases none at all) models who appeared to be of South Asian, Native American, or Middle Eastern descent.
Also, we know this report is focused on race, but it should be noted that of course there were no plus-size models to be seen anywhere. Eden Miller made headlines for having the first plus-size line shown at fashion week, but apparently only six looks total were shown and no one is talking about it after the fact (it could be possible that the clothes shown were just plain really bad). Plus-size models for fashion week aren’t entirely without precedent–Beth Ditto opened Jean Paul Gaultier’s Spring 2011 show.
What about Mixed-Race Models?
Jezebel admitted that they went by skin tone only to determine whether or not a model was a model of colour, and that they didn’t have the time to investigate the backgrounds of all the hundreds of models that walked the NYFW shows. Reading the presence of mixed-race models therefore might become a bit dicey.
Above: Yumi Lambert was the first model of colour to appear in the Christopher Kane Spring 2014 show.
Our editor Emily Yakashiro gives the example from London Fashion Week–in the Christopher Kane show on Monday, 23 white models were sent down the catwalk before the first model of colour appeared–#24, Yumi Lambert, who is mixed-race (she’s one quarter Japanese). Lambert could have easily passed as white to the untrained eye given the circumstances of that particular show, but Jezebel included Lambert in their NYFW report, noting she walked in 13 shows. Yakashiro further suggests it might be a “takes one to know one” kind of a situation, being mixed-race herself.
Keepin’ it Cutthroat with Models of Colour
Jezebel made note of a disturbing trend where casting agents for shows are hiring the same few models of colour over and over again, opting not to hire any fresh faces for their shows.
Left to right: Jourdan Dunn, Grace Mahary, Senait Gidey
This is really problematic for a few reasons:
1. If they keep hiring the same few models of colour, it would seem that these models like Grace Mahary, Cora Emmanuel, and Malaika Firth automatically become these token celebrities representing All Black Women in Fashion; they can’t simply hire other black models for shows unless they are similarly presented, suggesting that models of colour have to work twice as hard to earn and keep their spot at the top, while white models just have to walk in the door.
2. Hiring the same models of colour over and over again keeps competition especially cutthroat. For instance, if we know Calvin Klein wants only one black model, the competition for this coveted spot would be between the three models mentioned above, as well as Chanel Iman and Jourdan Dunn. This is a prime example of systemic sexism and racism; it shows how women are constantly pitted against one another, being forced into competition rather than wanting to establish a supportive, helpful community.
3. Repetitious hiring is tokenism and keeps with the status quo, it is like casting agents can’t even be bothered to seek out new talent. It’s like they assume a fashion show’s audience care and interest in models of colour maxes out after a while and so they don’t even try to find new models, so they throw in the One Black Girl Everyone Likes Already to keep the audience thinking that yes, there is diversity even if its conducted in the most transparent way.
4. It puts an enormous amount of pressure on models of colour to represent their race. This is a problem white models never have to deal with. For example, Marine Deleeuw isn’t The White Model the way Joan Smalls is The Black Model. As mentioned in #1, these models become The Black Women of Fashion, and become pigeon holed in a way that a white model never would.
Designers who are doing Pretty Good
Above: A look from Jeremy Scott’s Spring 2014 show, which was relatively quite diverse. Sorry, we’re not sure who this model is, if you know her name let us know!
Jezebel reported that designers who had, ” a respectable roughly 30 percent or more models of color or more,” included:
Alice + Olivia
Diane Von Furstenberg
Designers who are Still Really Committed to their White Supremacy
Despite these strides forward, Jezebel notes that, “there were plenty of designers who featured a distressingly low number of models of color [sic]”, further explaining that, “these designers often had models of color showing between zero and three looks a presentation. Many boosted their numbers only because of a select black or asian model who wore more than one look.” The guilty designers include:
Sass & Bide
Band of Outsiders