The push to diversify models in the fashion industry has been slow and steady.
Prada opened its Fall/Winter collection this year with 19-year-old Sudanese American model Anok Yai. It was the first time the luxury designer had opened with a model of color since 1997’s entrance by Naomi Campbell. She was joined on the runway by Adut Akech, a South Sudanese immigrant to Australia.
“There has been a big increase in the number of really dark skinned girls being cast, even from last season. It feels amazing,” Akech told the New York Times.
And last year, Louis Vuitton opened their first show in their 163-year-history with an African American model: Janaye Furman, a drama student from Southern California.
Women of color have graced the runway before, but demand for better representation in fashion has come and gone in the past like it’s just another trend.
Modeling was de facto segregated for decades, with black women only modeling products aimed at other black women. The United Color of Benetton famously developed a multicultural cast of models for their brightly colored wear in the ’80s.
Sometimes, black models like Grace Jones were employed for their so-called exotic or edgy qualities. The ’90s heralded a golden age of representation with women like Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell and Alek Wek, but the noise died down and designers returned to the default Eurocentric beauty standards, favoring waifish, rail-thin models with pale skin.
Now, the fashion doors seem to be opening. Not just for dark-skinned women, but also for trans women, plus-size women and women over 30.
It remains to be seen if this is a permanent awakening to change the stiff fashion industry or if it’s another trend the industry will abandon.