Source: Chromat Spring 2019 at NYFW
As New York Fashion Week’s Spring 2019 run came to a close on September 14th, every fashion magazine waved a celebratory flag in the name of the season’s trailblazing inclusivity. 44.8% of runway castings consisted of models of color, a 7.5% increase from Fall 2018, as reported by The Fashion Spot, and previous numbers for plus-size and trans models were also topped. After watching a slew of this season’s shows, (shout out to live-streaming), I was excited to write an article about how much progress the fashion industry has made in addressing its lack of inclusivity. After all, it was only a few years ago in Spring 2015 that the percentage of models of color was less than half of what it is now. But my enthusiasm to write such a piece faded as an ugly truth set in, one that most magazines have failed time and time again to recognize: the fashion industry is making strides to emphasize inclusivity amongst models that walk at NYFW, but not at the labels which show.
Fashion is dominated by men. It’s typical for established fashion houses to be helmed by male creative directors on the design side and run by male CEOs on the business side. To name a couple, Gucci, Chanel, and Burberry all abide by this, and they only represent a small group of the many luxury labels which do so. In the fashion industry, women are the silent minority, holding most of the lower level positions and few management roles, even at womenswear companies. A 2015 Business of Fashion survey of fifty major fashion brands revealed that only 14% were run by women, putting years of speculation on the topic into perspective. The irony of this is that women make up the majority of consumers for the very labels that are disservicing them.
The fashion industry’s shortcomings aren’t confined to its ridiculous gender disparity. If you haven’t already guessed, the male CEOs and creative directors of the previously mentioned fashion houses are all white, as are most in their position. I’d like to point out black designer Virgil Abloh’s appointment as the artistic director of Louis Vuitton in March 2018 as something that defies fashion’s racist norm, while simultaneously acting as proof of its existence.
Abloh’s designation brought forth a heated discussion on whether or not his place at LV, one of black representation, was purposefully intended to be commercialized by the brand. Abloh’s talent speaks for itself, and his role at LV is well-earned. It should be noted that he didn’t deserve to have his success scrutinized simply because he represents a step towards inclusion. (It’s painfully likely a white designer in the same position would never be examined to this extent.) Aside from the ill-willed debate on Abloh’s merit, the conversation surrounding black creatives in fashion was valuable and served as a reminder that the industry still has a ways to go when it comes to inclusivity.
I’m grateful for the progression towards inclusivity that was represented through this season’s lineup of models at NYFW, but it’s just as important for that to exist off the runway. This need must be addressed, along with the many aspects of inclusivity besides gender and race, such as plus-size and LGBT bias and ageism, which are present even outside the realm of models. Unfortunately for those in the minority of the male-run fashion industry, the people behind the clothing are considered less representative of the label than the models wearing it; thus, opportunities to recognize the absence of inclusivity behind the scenes are few and far between.