Last year I caused a bit of a stir, to put it mildly, when I authored a blog post which appeared on this site titled, "Why I'm Wearing Vivienne Tam and Betsey Johnson (and Why Every Black Woman Should)."
In it I argued that based on the findings of a Loop21.com report that analyzed which designers were more likely to feature models of color on their runways during New York Fashion Week, I had a better idea of which designers I would be wearing going forward.
At the time I wrote, "Most of the runways at New York Fashion Week were about as diverse as a Tea Party rally." Maybe a tad harsh, but not inaccurate. Of 144 shows, 25 featured no black models at all, while 19 featured no Asian models and Latinos appeared in 63 shows.
There were some bright spots though. Designers Betsey Johnson, Gwen Stefani, Diane Von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs, Vivienne Tam, Oscar de la Renta, First Lady favorite Jason Wu and the label Imitation of Christ, all featured multiple black models and models of all colors in their shows. This year the news and the numbers are even better for models and consumers of color.
The 2011 New York Fashion Week runway diversity report by Loop21.com (where I am a Contributing Editor) found a noticeable uptick in the number of models of color appearing on runways, with the labels Tracy Reese, J.Crew, St. John and Imitation of Christ leading the pack in terms of featuring diverse faces. Of more than 200 designers showing at New York Fashion Week, only 20 of them featured no black models -- less than 10% while 34, or 20%, did not feature models of Asian descent. (It's worth noting that the number of Asian models dipped slightly, but the overall representation of models of color increased due to the number of black models and ethnically ambiguous non-white models featured this year.)
There were still a few designers that could use some improvement. The Labels Preen and Caroline Charles didn't feature a single model of color in their shows. That means no one of Black, Hispanic or Asian descent. You can read this year's report in its entirety along with last year's report HERE.
Ironically, shortly before last year's report was released I appeared on MSNBC to discuss whether or not fashion magazines were experiencing an "Obama Effect." At the time I noted that more women of color began appearing both on the covers of and inside of major fashion magazines following President Obama's election, including actress Halle Berry who landed the coveted September 2010 cover of VOGUE, and YaYa Dacosta who appeared on the cover of that month's issue of W. Unfortunately, this "Obama Effect," appeared to be limited to print, with runways remaining overwhelmingly white, despite the fact that black women spend approximately 20 billion dollars a year on clothes.
There are those who have argued that when we are facing so many serious problems, from poverty to more egregious forms of discrimination, why does an issue like diversity in fashion matter? Here's an example of why it matters. If you do a Google search for The Cosby Show and the election of Barack Obama you will get over 100,000 results. The reason? Because from academics, to political consultants there are countless experts who believe that the impact that The Cosby Show had on popular culture paved the way for the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. This subject seems to be one of the few points that Karl Rove and the New York Times actually agree on. The bottom line is that pop culture often has a much greater impact on our attitudes on subjects like race than politics or the law, so what -- and who -- we see on television, in magazines, and yes on runways, matters.
See what fashion insiders have to say on the issue of runway diversity. You can find my interviews with supermodel Beverly Johnson, designer Vivienne Tam, New York Fashion Week Chief Fern Mallis, talk show host and fashion week front row attendee, Wendy Williams, and others here.