The rise of diverse faces this New York Fashion Week has sprung up an undercurrent of skepticism. As the public calls for representation in the industry, brands are learning the line between inclusion and tokenism. One side of the industry that may not be helping the cause? Modeling agencies.
A new feature in the New York Times celebrates the “critical mass” of diversity on runways this season. From Georgia Pratt at Tome to Ashley Graham at Michael Kors and Marquita Pring at Prabal Gurung, “curvy” faces graced more runways than ever.
But according to Ramon Martin, a designer at Tome, the agencies may have played a part in keeping these same models away from shows in the past.
“We’ve tried for at least three shows to book what the industry calls ‘curve’ models, but the agencies wouldn’t give them to us,” Martin tells the Times. “There seemed to be an apprehension across the board about how we would represent these women, that working with them would smack of tokenism. There had to come a shift from that side of the industry before we could actually show them in our clothes.”
This seems to be an industry catch-22: The agencies wouldn’t send the models unless brands committed to representing them fairly, and the brands couldn’t represent plus-size women fairly without any models. But as the Times reports, inclusivity is slowly but surely becoming the norm. Ivan Bart, the president of IMG Models, discussed the brand’s new priorities for model casting. “These days we’re pushing to include in our roster people of all ages, races, sizes, body types and genders,” he said. “We’re evolving as a society, and fashion, too, has to evolve.”
Ahead of Fashion Week this year, the CFDA released guidelines asking designers to be aware of model health and diversity when casting for NYFW shows. The industry seems to be working to shift. Prabal Gurung put it best: “Why shouldn’t larger women and those perceived as ‘other’ walk alongside a Joan Smalls or a Gigi Hadid?”