Is this the year of the black model?

Valentino show at Paris Couture SS19 Fashion Week
Valentino show at Paris Couture SS19 Fashion Week

And indeed we were "dumb with wonderment" show after show this Paris Haute Couture Spring/Summer '19 Fashion Week. Okay, none of the themes were Moulin Rouge, but honestly, spectacular is the only word fit to describe this year's runway offerings.

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From Dior's circus-themed show to Iris van Herpen's futuristic 3D wearable art pieces to Chanel's French Villa stage set, the week has been nothing short of design innovation and grandeur. Not to mention Olivier Rousteing's first Balmain couture show on Wednesday evening, where he might have almost outdone himself with that ivory and cotton candy-coloured collection. 

Fashionista described this collection as a "Freak-fest" and a "funky, futuristic mishmash of typical Rousteing fare with exaggerated, asymmetrical silhouettes." 

Couture might be where Olivier's heart really is, given the fact that his work tends to be quite avante-garde anyway. So much so that some international publications have critiqued Balmain as "too extra" and even "garish" at times. 

Technicalities aside, it must be noted that the Balmain and Valentino shows (along with a few others) were perhaps some of those in which we've seen the most black and Asian models to date.

READ MORE: WATCH: Naomi Campbell wants more models of colour to be included in fashion

Not to applaud fish for swimming or anything, but when for the first time, you can count more than the same three black models on rotation, it makes you hopeful about the direction in which high fashion seems to be headed towards.

READ MORE: CFDA report highlights what it will take to achieve a truly diverse and inclusive fashion industry

Refinery29 dubbed 2018's Paris haute couture Fall '18 week the most diverse one in decades, also noting that Hubert de Givenchy was one of the first designers to bring diversity onto the runway in the '70s. They further highlighted that "we can't forget what Yves Saint Laurent did for black women in Paris on the ready-to-wear circuit," naming Iman, Katoucha Niane, and Dalma Callado as some of the few household names to rise from this era. 

Fast forward 20 or 30 odd years and Paris' couture runways remained lily white with the exception of the likes of Valentino, Dior, Armani and Jean Paul Gaultier.  

But since conversations about inclusivity in the fashion industry became louder, luxury labels have been taking strides towards being on the right side of capitalism's history (if ever there were such a thing). This is why this week's couture week had the highest prevalence of models of colour. 

We're also at a point where we can finally count on more than one hand the number of black models who are bagging major international campaigns and booking multiple gigs.

So let's take a quick look at what this observation looks like in numbers from the top three most talked about shows this week:


Haute couture

Total no. looks in collection: 36

Black models: 8

Asian models: 10

Total diversity: 50%



Total no. looks in collection: 63

Black models: 11

Asian models: 2

Total diversity: 19%

Upon further inspection, this actually could have been more diverse.

But Pierpaolo Piccioli more than made up for it in the couture show...


Total no. looks: 65

Black models: 35

Asian models: 5

Latina models: 4

Total diversity: 68%



Total no. looks: 62

Black models: 5

Asian models: 5

Latina models:

Total diversity: 18%

The sad reality is actually that several more SS19 shows looked a lot more like Chanel than Valentino albeit their efforts to add more colour. 

However, we can still acknowledge that having black models as either an opener or a showstopper is proof that fashion has come a long way.

And what I now call Pierpaolo's Valentino 'Spectacular Spectacular' may just be the push the industry needs to make this the year of the black model - "So delighting, it will run for 50 years! So exciting, the audience will stomp and cheer!"

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