Where Have All the Black Models Gone? The Erasure of Black Women in Runway Shows

By Unique Ratcliff |

Fashion Week is equivalent to Senior prom for the fashion industry. It’s that one opportunity to dress in your absolute best for one night. Instead of designers donning themselves in their favorite store bought prom dress; they recruit the creme dela creme of the modeling industry to do their new line justice. This Spring’s Fashion Week featured a return of vintage prints, florals, and white models.

There’s no secret that luxury designers such as Louis Vuitton, GUCCI, and Alexander McQueen make their biggest profits off of black culture. Within the past year we have watched GUCCI become the staple designer within the hip-hop scene. On the flip-side, its runway presentation is generated for an audience of white, high class men and women. The issue of race has been ongoing in the fashion world for decades. Models like Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks were among the select few who were granted the opportunity to walk in high-end fashion shows alongside women who look absolutely nothing like them. Since the 90’s, the fashion industry has witnessed a slight shift in the number of actual black models.

In 2017, rampant protests around diversity/inclusion took the fashion world by storm and ended with designers recruiting more women of color in their shows. During the 2017 Balenciaga runway show, a group of models flooded the Parisian streets with signs protesting the show that was going on inside. According to The Cut, the models were protesting against designer Demna Gvasalia’s all-white cast that he used for his debut the previous year. This protest brought about a small wave of change, causing the designer to incorporate four models of color within his last Fall show.

These numbers seemed to increase last Fall after a terrible turnout during the Spring. For the Spring 2017 season, The Fashion Spot Diversity Report showed that out of the 8,832 models that appeared in New York, London, Paris, and Milan only 25 percent were nonwhite. There was a slight increase in non white models since the Fall 2016 report. Their 2017 Fall season report highlighted a slight influx of women of color walking the runway. Combining all four popular fashion cities, 27.9 percent of the models cast were women of color. These are all notable strides, but the question that arises is, what is considered “non-white?”

Kanye West’s controversial request in 2016 of wanting “multicultural” women to appear in his casting call created a finite line of what “black” women in runway shows should actually look like. Instead of hiring models of African descent, fashion brands are opting to use anyone who has close to a brown complexion. This year’s fashion week regurgitated the same black models with darker hues. As far as representation goes this creates a small pathway of hope, but overall, the space for black models to exist is still slim to none.



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