Progress Seen in Model Diversity

A year after the international fashion industry was criticized for its lack of diversity on the runways, a new assessment reports signs of improvement.

NEW YORK — A year after the international fashion industry was criticized for its lack of diversity on the runways, a new assessment reports signs of improvement.

This story first appeared in the February 4, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The Diversity Coalition, the group led by activist and former model Bethann Hardison that analyzed the number of models of color in February 2013 shows, planned to send a more favorable update to the Council of Fashion Designers of America today based on the September 2013 shows. In an e-mail to president Diane von Furstenberg and chief executive officer Steven Kolb, the Diversity Coalition acknowledged the progress within certain houses, but cautioned, “The objective is to continue this improvement across the entire industry. We look for consistency and not because of advocacy or a season lending to darker skin. We will continue to watch and reveal season to season.”

Hardison was reluctant to size up last season’s progress with a letter grade. “Let’s grade them after this collection,” she said, “In our industry, we tend to follow things once we know they’re OK.”

Her e-mail to the CFDA notes, “It is important to say that there are design houses serviced by casting directors and stylists who are latent, as they seem comfortable with stereotypical images.”

In its reassessment of the 16 New York shows that it had critiqued last fall, the group noted that the greatest improvement last season was shown by Calvin Klein Collection, which had five models of color in its September show versus zero in February 2013. Narciso Rodriguez and The Row also increased the number of non-Caucasian models from zero to four. Conversely, MM6 Maison Martin Margiela was the only New York label that did not use any models of color in either 2013 season, according to the coalition.

Hardison, who sent e-mails of critique to the British Fashion Council, the Fédération Française de la Couture and the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, said she was encouraged by how receptive BFC’s Natalie Massenet was when they spoke about the need for greater diversity at Glamour’s 2013 Women of the Year awards. Miuccia Prada, Anna Wintour, Franca Sozzani, Valentino and the CFDA also earned praise from Hardison.

At the CFDA’s request, Hardison provided six guidelines for racial diversity that were referenced and linked to the Health Initiative letter that von Furstenberg and Kolb sent last week.

Prabal Gurung, whose spring ads feature Liya Kebede, said Monday that the coalition’s letter to the CFDA last year did not affect that decision or the casting for his upcoming show. “We have never been swayed by race when determining who will walk in our show or be the face of our campaign. Beauty is beauty and I honestly can say I do not see color when making those decisions,” he said.

Kolb said Monday, “Diane and I reached out to and met with the Diversity Coalition after last fashion week to be supportive. We felt we could really help by expanding our seasonal fashion week letter to have a stronger message of diversity and we felt providing suggested guidelines during casting time would have influence. CFDA also will work with the Coalition to organize an industry panel some time in the spring.”