Why Model Diversity at NYFW Is More Than Just a Trend

It’s easy to be hesitant when fashion makes such an obvious attempt to be more inclusive.
Publish date:
February 19, 2015
fashion, beauty, NYFW, body diversity, Model Diversity

It’s common knowledge that New York Fashion Week is not the most highly anticipated on the fashion month calendar. But while might lack in A list FROWers and sheer monetary power, it’s completely dominating a game that London and Paris could definitely step it up in — model diversity.

We’ve heard the term a lot in recent years, mostly because fashion has a fancy for underage Eastern European girls with long hair, 22-inch waists, and tréma accents over their names. But the New York runways aren’t just brave new frontiers when it comes to race. They’re also places where models can be genderless, plus-size, short, or even older than your mom. And every year it’s getting more obvious.

The first show we saw from the fall 2015 calendar was VFiles. These guys are all about using social media to find the four emerging designers they celebrate each season, and this year they stepped it up by casting the entire show — designers, stylists, and models — via social media. The runway result was a potpourri of race, size, and sexual identity.

While you’ve got many reasons not to love Kanye West's Adidas collection, his model casting can’t be one of them. Yes, there was Kylie Jenner — or as some people are calling it, backup Kendall — but the youngest Kardashian/Jenner spawn didn’t look too out of place in her bodystocking and hot pants. The debatable collection was at least modeled on an army that’s about as physically diverse as you’ll find at fashion week.

Other notable castings included Desigual with Winnie Harlow, Eckhaus Latta, who appeared to have cast friends and family members, and Cushnie et Ochs, who opened their new collection of cut-out bandage dresses on the curvy Crystal Renn. Chromat, the experimental brand by Becca McCharen, have always been trailblazers in their trumpeting of all body types. Nothing was different at their fall 2015 show on Friday.

It’s easy to be hesitant when fashion makes such an obvious attempt to be more inclusive. These are images that are intrinsically share-worthy, and when 99% of fashion shows are experienced through photographs and social media, anything to increase clicks is fair game. But the diversity “trend” — it doesn’t have to mean something negative, so we might has well call it that — does seem to have its roots in the right place.

The Cushnie casting is particularly worth taking a closer look at. Designers Carlie Cushnie and Michelle Ochs have in previous seasons been slammed for making clothes just for people who could serve as a body double for Karlie Kloss. Crystal Renn isn’t plus-size — far from it. But by casting her as their leading lady they seemed to be saying, “Look, our cut-outs aren’t just for skinnies!” It’s merely an attempt to ensnare more customers, which, in an age where everyone’s a critic, involves leaving no type of lady behind.

Kanye’s approach to casting likewise served as protection from the media. Some of Kanye’s best sound bites come from sounding off about designers who fail to make clothes to fit a wide range of body types — specifically, Kim Kardashian’s, which he’s referred to as “the body of all bodies.” Imagine the backlash if he’d put his camo coats on only whipped-thin ingenues. With the D-word on everyone’s lips, casting homogenously is just asking for a glass of haterade.

But the main reason model diversity looks like a lasting trend is that it’s indelibly cool. The brands exploring street casting this season are some of the most innovative on the NYFW calendar. Eschewing the aesthetic norm serves as a giant F you to fashion’s elitism while upping their klout score. Whether this takes off in Paris or London remains to be seen. We’ve got our eyes on Rick Owens. But in a city where younger labels (and their tweet-happy fans) are generating most of the buzz, we’ve got a good feeling about this one — and about the power of New York Fashion Week in general.

Reprinted with permission from Styleite. Want more? Check out these related stories:

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