The Most Popular Runway Models of Color at S/S 2012 New York Fashion Week

Observers warn that what happens on the runway can have a lasting impact on popular culture.

By Jorge Rivas Sep 29, 2011

Out of 4,657 different women’s wear looks that went down the runways at the Spring/Summer 2012 New York Fashion Week, only 820 spots went to models of color. Although these numbers may sound dismal, they’re actually an improvement over figures from previous years.

Asian and black models fare better than Latina models, a study conducted by Jezebel found. Non-white Latina models trailed in fourth place; out of those 4,657 looks, just 93, or 2 percent were given to them.

The news may seem trivial, but the reality is that what happens on the runway can have a lasting impact on popular culture. "The runway is where the path to much more visible work — like advertising campaigns for major designers, editorials in the biggest magazines, and, ultimately, if a model is very lucky, multi-year contracts with cosmetics companies — begins," explains Jenna Sauers, who wrote about this year’s diversity on the runway for Jezebel.

"If the girls who go into this hopper are mostly white, then the faces the rest of us will go on seeing in ads, magazines, and billboards will be white," Sauers said.

This has a lasting impressions on women and young girls of all colors and sizes–their self-image and self-esteem, especially.’s Keli Goff says diversity on the runway "often has a much greater impact on our attitudes on a subject like race than politics or the law."

Mainstream designers like Calvin Klein was one of the worst offenders. Klein gave just one look of his 32-look show to a model who wasn’t white, which went to Jasmine Tookes. There was only one designer who sent an entire set of white models down the runway: Billy Reid, a luxury brand that GQ called one of the best menswear designers in America.

3.1 Phillip Lim, Betsey Johnson, Diane von Furstenberg, Imitation of Christ, Jason Wu, Jen Kao, Oscar de la Renta, Peter Som, Thom Browne, Tracy Reese, and Zac Posen all had show casts that comprised 20 percent or more models of color.

The most-booked non-white Latina model at New York fashion week was Brazilian model Isabella Melo. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week)

The most-booked non-white girl of this season was Chinese supermodel Liu Wen. Here she is walking for Proenza Schouler. (Photo by Peter Michael Dills/Getty Images)

Jourdan Dunn was the most-booked black model at New York fashion week. She walked in 17 shows. Here she is at Marc Jacobs. (Yes, that’s a plastic dress you’re looking at.) (Photo by Peter Michael Dills/Getty Images)

And just one last thing. I’ll leave you with a quote from Miss J on another thing to keep an eye on.

"Years ago the runways were almost dominated by black girls," J. Alexander, a runway coach on "America’s Next Top Model," told Guy Trebay in The New York Times in 2007. "Now some people are not interested in the vision of the black girls unless they’re doing a jungle theme and they can put her in a grass skirt and diamonds and hand her a spear."