Fashion Week This Season Is Different Than Ever Before—Here’s Why

Every season, New York Fashion Week introduces some of the most covetable pieces to the world—via designer previews, runway shows and street-style looks from the major fashion influencers in the front rows. But this time, attention is shifting from the clothing and accessories to the models themselves—and we’re not talking about fan favorites like Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner. (Although they certainly have their fair share of the spotlight.) Instead, we mean the plus-size models, older models and women of color who are transforming the stages at Prabal Gurung, Tome and Christian Siriano, among many others.

The trend seemed to start earlier this month when Vogue released its most diverse cover to date, featuring a group of women like Ashley Graham and Adwoa Aboah, to prove that beauty comes in all shades, shapes and sizes. Then Ashley took her campaign for body positivity to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, which ran a self-explanatory ad titled “Every Body, Every Age, Every Beautiful” promoting the model’s swimsuit line ranging from sizes 6 to 22 as worn by real women. And today Vogue Paris capped it off by publishing its first cover of transgender model Valentina Sampaio for the March 2017 issue. Clearly, inclusivity is no longer a foreign concept to the fashion industry—yet it’s still considered a progressive move when designers cast women who don’t fit the traditional stereotype of a model: tall, Caucasian and size zero.

So when Prabal Gurung recruited plus-size models Candice Huffine and Marquita Pring to wear the same midi-length frocks as the straight-size models in his Fall 2017 show, it showed that perhaps we are moving toward better model representation—particularly after the two had already walked at Tome’s Fall 2017 runway alongside fellow plus-size model Georgia Pratt and 65-year-old actress-turned-model Jacky O’Shaughnessy. Christian Siriano, a longtime advocate of all body types, also embraced an inclusive runway with models of varying sizes and women of color. “I just book girls who are fabulous,” he explained. Preach.

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The models themselves are also making headlines. At Michael Kors’ Fall 2017 show, Ashley Graham accomplished a historic feat, walking for a designer who mentioned just last season that it would be impossible to include plus-size models in his show as that would mean featuring sizes up to 18. (Michael is one of the few major designers who offers clothing up to size 16, but he still didn’t include women over size 12 in his Spring 2017 show.) Another standout was The Row, where ’90s superstars like 46-year-old Kirsten Owen and 39-year-old Alek Wek walked alongside newcomers like Vogue cover girl Imaan Hammam to exhibit women of all ages.

There’s more: Somali-American Halima Aden, who was born in a Kenyan refugee camp, became the first hijab-wearing model at Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 5 show—a day after Indonesian designer Anniesa Hasibuan debuted an all-immigrant cast of models at her second NYFW runway. (The designer was the first to use the traditional Muslim veil on the runway last season, when her brand was only a year old.) All these instances are a huge testament to the changing times, maybe even denoting the start of a paradigm shift in a field not generally known for its inclusivity.

While we can’t help but question whether this is just a fad, we must applaud the efforts of these publications and designers; thanks to them, the fashion industry may even one day tout diversity as the new normal. Until then, we can continue to shine light on those who commit themselves to the democratization of fashion and ultimately push society toward a true acceptance of women—regardless of size, age or color.

Samantha McDonald