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New York Fashion Week Shows Little Model Diversity, Again

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Fashion editors, bloggers and gadflys are dashing off to the final shows at New York's Fashion Week. It's where industry stars are made or crowned, see Alexander Wang, and trends emerge that will trickle down to your local fast-fashion mall hangout, like say pastel coats. Robin Givhan is with New York magazine's The Cut, and she agreed to chat with us even though she herself is dashing between a final flurry of runway shows.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Hey there, Robin. What are you on the way to?

ROBIN GIVHAN: I am headed to Calvin Klein's women's collection.

CORNISH: Oh, good New York, right, kind of iconic...

GIVHAN: I've got New York friends.

CORNISH: ...designer, yeah. So want to ask you some serious questions. But first, you know, I mentioned these pastel coats, and I want to know...

GIVHAN: Oh, the clothes are serious.

CORNISH: Yeah, the...

GIVHAN: Clothes are very serious.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Exactly. The designer that stood out to you.

GIVHAN: Well, for me, it was incredibly intriguing to write about Thom Browne, who is relatively new to women's wear. But his collection was based on this idea of constriction, the rituals and the clothing that's connected to rituals that constraint women. And his pieces were lace and beautifully seamed, with strong shoulders and hourglass shapes. But they were so molded that you have this sense that they were this kind of hourglass shell that was surrounding the body instead of an hourglass that was following the actual shape of the body.

CORNISH: Now, going into this year's Fashion Week, you had written that the industry was sort of at a crossroads when it comes to facing up to social responsibility on a variety of issues. But one that comes up it seems every year is diversity on the runways. Talk about what we saw in terms of models going down the catwalk.

GIVHAN: This has been going on since at least the late '90s, and designers will say that it's a matter of aesthetics or that they're just on enough professional A class models of color that are being sent to them when they're booking their shows. But this time, it really felt like it was an issue that they could not ignore. In part, because one of the leading activists for greater diversity, Bethann Hardison, who is herself a former model and also a former agency owner, really sat down, calculated the numbers of models of color who are on the runway last season and called the designers out for the ones who only had either one or no models of color on the runway and pretty much use the R word, I mean, said that what they were doing was racist.

CORNISH: Now, one step forward professionally in terms of some diversity on the runway came from the designer Eden Miller, correct?

GIVHAN: Yes. Well, that sort of just narrow the little world of diversity, which is essentially trying to put larger models on the runway, and she a plus-size designer and was able to show under the auspices of New York Fashion Week at Lincoln Center. But Jason Wu, who is sort of a star designer and is not a plus-size designer per se, used a group of models who were larger than the norm who really conveyed a kind of power and curvaceousness and strength and athleticism on the runway that was really outstanding and did his clothes proud, I think.

CORNISH: Robin Givhan, she's style and culture writer for New York magazine's The Cut. Robin, thank you so much.

GIVHAN: Thank you.

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