New York Fashion Week progress report: Black models still underrepresented on the catwalks

african kings

New York Fashion Week ended Thursday with black models of every shade prancing down the catwalk. At first glance, it’s encouraging and exciting to see the likes of Joan Smalls, Arlenis Sosa, Cora Emmanuel, and Jourdan Dunn strut alongside newer faces like Jasmine Tookes, Grace Mahary, and Maria Borges; but the truth is, black models are still not represented evenly at New York Fashion Week.

Outside of a small pantheon of designers that consistently cast black models to represent their work including Tracy Reese, Stephen Burrows, Carolina Herrera, Rachel Roy, and Diane von Furstenberg, black models are still tokens on most runways, or shut out altogether.

Of the roughly 168 designers that presented their Spring 2013 collections in New York, 40 — that’s nearly 25 percent — did not use a single black model.  Though most designers cast at least one to walk in their show, pose in their presentation, or feature in the look book they sent press, less than 25 designers hired three or more models of African descent.

The story was similar last spring. Out of 170 Spring 2012 fashion shows, again 40 were missing a black face. If anything, last year was a better season for black models as 47 designers used more than two black models in their shows — more than double the number of designers that did so this season.

Disturbingly, the spring seasons are typically more favorable to black models. As designers seek to show off their warm-weather lines against darker skin tones, they tend to hire black models more liberally. In the Fall 2012 collections, designers previewed just six months ago, 56 (out of 180) did not feature one black model. Again, only 24 designers went beyond the one token model to cast three or more blacks.

While it is definitely within the rights and creative license of designers to hire whomever they feel will best represent the collections they have spent months conceiving, the stubbornness of this trend disappointing, and puzzling. In the age of Michelle Obama, with the first lady introducing niche and little known designers to the masses to resounding appeal, it’s curious that some designers still cast zero models of African descent. Even as the fashion world asserts what will be on trend, it seems many of these arbiters of style are stuck in seasons past.

Just as the fashion industry collectively seeks improvement in their bottom lines every season, it’s time the industry rallies around the race issue once and for all. In May, Vogue came out against anorexic and underage models. It’s time industry influencers did the same when it comes to inequality on the runway.

Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond is a fashion blogger and the author of  ‘Powder Necklace.’ Follow Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond on Twitter at @nanaekua.