NYFW 2013 Showcases More Models of Color Than Ever Before: Fad or Future?
Meet this season's 10 rising stars
New York Fashion Week ended earlier this month boasting the most racially-diverse runways the semi-annual event has seen in past years. A little more than 20 percent of the models who worked the catwalk were of color, allowing the Spring-Summer 2013 shows to serve as a platform for new (nonwhite) faces to, quite literally, shine in the spotlight.
Of the 4,708 women's looks presented, 79.4 percent were showcased by white models; eight brands used them exclusively. However, a smaller, core group of the 143 designers employed a majority of, well, minorities, leading to the historic gain in representation. (In 2007, one-third of the New York shows used no models of color at all. The following year, models of color made up 12 percent of those walking the runway. And in 2009, the ratio rose to 18 percent for models of color.)
Tracy Reese—whose star is still shining brightly since dressing first lady Michelle Obama in an applauded pink-and-copper custom-made frock for the Democratic National Convention—had more than half of her 45 looks walked by African American, Asian and Latina models.
And increased diversity on the catwalk may be a continuing trend. Designer Philip Treacy made an even greater statement about diversity last week during London Fashion Week when he decided to use black models exclusively—including legend Alek Wek and rising star Jourdan Dunn—for his Spring-Summer collection inspired by Michael Jackson's most iconic outfits.
Dunn praised Treacy's "genius" via Twitter, a marked departure from comments she tweeted this time last year when she slammed the abilities of industry hairstylists and makeup artists when it comes to working with models of color, especially black models: "I swear some people need to learn how to do black skin/hair."
The type of concerns raised by Dunn last year are what will continue to threaten any gains made in diversity. Alex Shah, spokesperson of Premier Model Management—an agency that has helped nurture the career of black supermodel Naomi Campbell—says Dunn's concern is palpable despite the history-making trend seen on the catwalk this year.
"It's a step in the right direction but many photographers and make-up artists still don't know how to work with black skin," she told the Sunday Times. "They will be used in Spring-Summer shows when there is a tribal theme, but it is much harder in Autumn-Winter."
Sosheba Griffiths, a model from Kingston, Jamaica, was discovered on her way home from school at age 16. Having worked with top designers including Roberto Cavalli, she's aware of the typecasting she and other models of color face when looking to be booked, but keeps high hopes that models of color will soon become more of a necessity than a novelty.
"Ethnic looks are much more fashionable now than they used to be," she told CNN. "You see a lot more really lovely African fabrics, traditional tribal colors, Indian jewelry and stuff like that. But even if it started as a trend, I'm sure it's now something that is here to stay. The high-end designer clothes are getting more popular all over the world, not just Europe and America, so the designers will have to have models for all the different customers."