We knew things would be a little different in the spring 2021 season. Thanks to the ongoing pandemic, it has become much more difficult to perform traditional runway shows. For some designers, the risks outweighed the benefits. Others decided to present their goods in other formats such as lookbooks and video presentations. All of these adjustments definitely had an impact on our diversity results. Some for the better, some less.
After reviewing 287 model appearances in 48 "shows," Spring 2021 New York Fashion Week saw a fairly significant increase in racial diversity. This season, 57.1 percent of the color models were higher than in the fall of 2020 (43.6 percent). The increase can be explained by the decline in designers in New York this season. Or the fact that the fashion world suddenly got a conscience after social injustice returned to the spotlight. (We hope neither is the main motivator as we look for permanent diversity, not temporary appeasement.)
Whatever the reason, Spring 2021 is now New York's most racially diverse season since we started keeping track in Spring 2015. While we're taking what we can get, we're concerned that we'll see a backswing in the other direction in the fall of 2021.
We are happy to announce that the top model of New York Fashion Week Spring 2021 is a woman of color. Afro-Dominican beauty Annibelis Baez appeared in four shows. (Compare that to last season when South Korean top model and street style star Sora Choi, British-Moroccan beauty Nora Attal, American abby master, British-born Lara Mullen, famous French face Cyrielle Lalande, Josefine Lynderup from Denmark and China model Yilan Hua has secured first place in 11 shows.)
Sasha Knysh took second place in a total of three shows. She and Baez both went to see Jason Wu and Ulla Johnson. Baez also represented R13 and Theory, while Knysh modeled for Anna Sui.
Once again, size, age and gender were missing from the list of top models.
Unfortunately, the display in plus sizes has decreased from last season. For spring 2021 there were only 12 oversized models. That's less than 27 for Fall 2020. And a lot less than in Spring 2020 when a record of 68 plus-size models took part.
And those 12 appearances were only spread over five shows. Alva Claire, Kimberly Drew and Precious Okoyomon were cast by Collina Strada. Ingrid Medeiros, Kylie Frink, Lauren Chan (who also appeared on Veronica Beard's) and Sabina Karlsson went for Christian Siriano. Over at Christian Cowan's, it was Jari Jones and Rachel Cargle. Maya Finoh for Chromat and Paloma Elsesser for Eckhaus Latta complete the list.
The good news? A majority of the plus sizes (9 out of 12) went to color models. Jones is transgender too, so there was crossover appeal.
TRANSGENDER / NON BINARY
Transgender and non-binary models saw only a slight increase in representation in spring 2021. The total rose from 10 in autumn 2020 to 11 in spring 2021. Still, it pales in comparison to the 36 in spring 2020.
Aaron Philip represented Collina Strada. Amanda Lepore, Isis King, Jari Jones and Teddy Quinlivan were hired by Christian Cowan. Jason Wu guessed Ariel Nicholson and Indya Moore. R13 hired Ella Snyder, Kim Shui chose Fabiana Montenegro, Eckhaus Latta had Hari Nef and Maya Mones modeled for Chromat.
Three drag queens were also booked this season. Christian Cowan had Symone and Violet Chachki. Collina Strada hired West Dakota.
It was almost a 50/50 split between white and non-white models. Even more encouraging is the fact that Lepore also falls into the age bracket and Jones is a plus-size model.
Only four over 50 models were cast for spring 2021. That's less than a season ago. Supermodel Helena Christensen models for Christian Cowan. Like Amanda Lepore and Susanne Bartsch. Collina Strada hired Kathleen Engman.
As if just four employees weren't depressing enough, all four were white. A positive one? Lepore is also transgender.
Most and least different shows
We were pleasantly surprised to see that one of the least varied shows of last season moved into the most diverse category. Cinq à Sept rose from 24 percent in fall 2020 to 100 percent in spring 2021. Others who hit the 100 percent diversity mark were Adeam, Thakoon, Pamella Roland, Zero + Maria Cornejo, Bibhu Mohapatra, Chromat and Tomo Koizumi . Pamella Roland and Zero + Maria Cornejo only book one model with Thakoon.
Perhaps more meaningful is the latest list of Least Different Shows. Snow Xue Gao, Marina Moscone, Claudia Li, Bevza, Libertine, Dennis Basso, Nicholas K and Katie Gallagher opted for zero color models.
In conclusion, only time will tell if the 2021 New York spring season gains and losses are any indication of real change. One of the most encouraging signs? Two handicapped models were cast. Emily Barker and Aaron Philip appeared for Collina Strada. But we must always relate the pandemic and unrest to this season so that they may not coincide with the ones to come. We just need to stay positive and diligent to ensure that real change occurs.
Additional reporting from Mark E.
Only women and non-binary models are included in this data. Color models are classified as those that are not white or have a mixed background.