Ongoing Dialogue: Diversity at NYFW

In the midst of a national (and even international) conversation about diversification and consciousness of different cultures and ideas, New York Fashion Week celebrates avant-garde fashion, talented designers and beautiful supermodels. However, the fashion industry has long been criticized for its lack of diversity on the runway; racial or otherwise.

CAS sophomore Shirley Yang agrees. “I hate how there’s only one kind of beauty: white, skinny, and tall, especially since I’m neither white, skinny, nor tall,” Yang said.

Chelsea Keane, a second-year graduate student at GSAS, also sees racial inequalities on the runway. “A label will sign one black model, one Asian model, and one plus sized model to ‘cover their bases,’ rather than in any true attempt at representation,” Keane said.

It’s a concern that has grown over the years, but is especially prominent now. The Spring/Summer 2017 Fashion Week took place on a backdrop of tensions and a growing crowd of voices hoping for diversification, especially within the Asian American population.

“I think that people are paying more attention to the lack of diversity and representation: especially through social media platforms. The rise of political, cultural and economic prominence from Asian countries is also helping, from China’s social media crazes, South Korea’s Hallyu wave to Japan’s anime and minimalist aesthetic,” Yang said.

This season’s NYFW seems to have made certain strides towards diversification, at least when it concerns Asian representation. More than 25 Asian designers showcased their collections, from older names like Derek Lam to newer ones like Kye or Dan Liu, a significant increase from previous years. With controversies stirring in the past year concerning whitewashing and yellow face in Hollywood (see “Ghost in Shell” and “Marvel’s Dr. Strange”, to name just two movies that have been embroiled in conflict), it comes as no surprise that perhaps the fashion industry would become more conscious.

“Hopefully, it’s an upward trend that will continue to swing upward. I think that fashion isn’t totally an island unto itself, and is perhaps affected by other branches of the arts as well, where we’re seeing more Asian talent,” Keane said.

Collectives like Asia Fashion Collection and the JD Fashion Show have also nudged their way onto the NYFW runway. Not a label by any one designer, these groups give the chance to showcase designs to multiple artists. On NYFW’s website, Asia Fashion Collection states that their goal is to “incubate promising young designers from Asia” in order to further develop the fashion industry in those regions, while the JD Fashion Show gives five designers from China the chance to show their work to a large stage.

But this NYFW has not just been stellar in terms of stepping up on representation, it has been a historical one, too. Indonesian designer Anniesa Hasibuan was the first hijab designer to send a collection down the runway, and one in which all of the models donned a hijab, to boot.

Tisch freshman Jori Johnson said, “I’m surprised it’s taken this long for a hijab designer to be showcased at NYFW! I think it’s a great step forward in combating the diversity issue in the industry.”

Fashion and by extension Fashion Week has been dogged by criticism after criticism concerning diversity, and most of them have been legitimate. Yet the industry has shown that it can certainly be receptive, and although there is a long way to go before any semblance of representation is attainable, it is taking the steps to getting there.

Kaitlyn Wang is a contributing writer. Email her at violetvision@nyunews.com.

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