Spotted Backstage: Women of color were all over the spring runways. A glorious Do!
Like a lot of teenagers in the late nineties, I was obsessed with models—though few of them had brown skin like mine. The arrival of women of color such as Ethiopia’s Liya Kebede around 2000 was huge for me, even if she was a rarity. Back then, “most agencies had only one or two black models,” recalls my own half sister, Amy Kizer, who modeled in the eighties and nineties. “If there were more, they’d be taking each other’s work.” Even the iconic Naomi Campbell had a hard go of it in the beginning (“My girls stood up for me,” she has said of the fact that Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington Burns wouldn’t take jobs unless she was hired too).
Fast-forward to now: The era of the token nonwhite model of the moment is over. From major ad campaigns to mainstream fashion magazines, I’m seeing people of color everywhere. I’m especially excited about the rise of Givenchy’s go-to runway girl, the Egyptian Moroccan model Imaan Hammam, and also Dominican-born Lineisy Montero, who walked the highest number of shows of any model—68!—this past
season. Bottega Veneta and Creatures of the Wind, in particular, cast lineups so diverse that I felt they just got it.
But before we declare victory, let’s look at the numbers: Despite what seemed like a noticeable shift at big-label shows, the percentage of nonwhite models across all spring runways was up just 2 percent, to 22 percent, from the previous season. An improvement? Sure. But we can do better.
“In our industry we have to say, We need more and more girls of color,” says Bethann Hardison, a former model and fashion’s most vocal diversity advocate. “We have to keep banging the drum.”
What’s more, “all of us—on the agency side, the designer side, the photography side, and the magazine side—have to be cognizant that we work in a very public industry and we need to represent all women,” says Kyle Hagler, the superagent at Next Management who helped launch the careers of Kebede and Montero. “Even with a more diverse runway, there are still certain groups without a strong presence.” (Latina models, for example, made up only 2 percent of all runway models last season.)
But British model Jourdan Dunn, above, feels change is inevitable. “I think we’ve moved beyond the ‘trend’ stage,” she says. “There are too many people speaking out about the issue. This is just the beginning.”
Only time will tell whether Dunn is right. This past November I heard legendary model Iman say at Glamour‘s Women of the Year event that “diversity in race is not a trend; it’s a movement.” I couldn’t agree more. We have to keep talking about this. For me, and for many women of color, we’re just getting used to seeing ourselves on the runway—so let’s keep walking forward. If that’s not a Do, I don’t know what is.