Costume Society Ambassadors, Costume Society  |  March 5, 2015

Diversity on the Catwalk

During every fashion week, the media turns its attention to the major catwalk shows of the season, and focus is inevitably drawn to the models showcasing the variety of new designs. It has often been suggested that, while the clothes seen on the catwalk may be diverse, the models wearing the garments are substantially less diverse in appearance, especially regarding their race, size, and ability. 

The above may be true in the majority of cases, however, the repeated questioning of model monotony by the media, has led to some major brands and events introducing noteworthy models who certainly break the mold. The most recent New York Fashion Week saw the first model with Down’s syndrome, Jamie Brewer, walking down the catwalk. Whilst Brewer may not have been a model for a mainstream show, walking the catwalk for Carrie Hammer as part of the Role Models Not Runway Models campaign, her inclusion, nevertheless, gained international attention. 

Hammer was, also, the first designer to feature a wheelchair-bound model during NYWF, although, the designer suggests her tendency to use disabled models isn’t for impact or novelty:

“I called up my existing clients who were all incredible women and one of them happened to be a doctor and a sex therapist who happened to be in wheelchair […] it was never intended to be this incredible statement.” (1. Hammer, 2014)

Also challenging the beauty norms in fashion is the former America’s Next Top Model contestant, and Vitiligo sufferer, Winnie Harlow (A.K.A Chantelle Brown-Young). The model, since leaving America’s Next Top Model, has achieved a major Spring/Summer ’15 ad campaign with Diesel, become the face of Desigual, and has walked at London, Madrid, and New York Fashion Weeks. As opposed to shying away from her skin pigmentation condition, Winnie celebrates her uniqueness, and describes how her skin leads to exciting, different and artistic, imagery.

The fashion industries’ celebration of Winnie’s appearance is worthy of it’s own celebration. Designers, and their marketing teams, are beginning to see both the aesthetic, and economic, advantage to featuring diverse models on their catwalks, and in their advertisements:

"I feel like the [fashion] industry is very much opening up, widening their eyes," (2. Harlow, to Fleming, 2014)

The designer Antonio Urzi, during his Autumn/Winter ’15 show at New York Fashion Week, featured Jack Eyres, who was the first ever male, amputee model on a mainstream catwalk. Jack, the British-born male model, became an amputee at the age of sixteen, after opting to have the leg removed due to a deformity since birth, however, he has never let it hinder his career as a model:

‘‘I just want to show that having a disability doesn’t need to hold you back.” (3. Eyres, to Merz, 2015)

Increasing the numbers of disabled models on the catwalk, and in the public eye, is the endeavor and raison d’être of Jack’s modeling agency, Models of Diversity. Models of Diversity (MOD) was established by Angel Sinclair in 2008, since then, the campaign has challenged the lack of diversity within the fashion industry, and it was the hard work of MOD that got Jack Eyres noticed by FTL Moda (the organisers of New York Fashion Week).  The fashion industry may be making only baby-steps in the right direction, but all the above models have made a huge splash within fashion media. The more the public celebrates designers who branch out with diverse models, the more other designers will follow suit, and hopefully, we aren’t too far off diversity becoming the new normality.

Olexandra Solomka, Costume Society Ambassador 2015

1. Brewer, J. in Tempesta, E. (2014) Actress makes history as the first ever model with Down syndrome to walk the runway at New York Fashion Week. Daily Mail Online. [Internet] Available from: <> [Accessed: 25th February 2015].
2.Harlow, W. in Fleming, K (2014). Model with Rare Skin Disease Changing Face of Fashion. New York Post. [Internet] Availble from: <> [Accessed: 25th February 2015]
3. Eyres, J. in Merz, T. (2014) My Dream is to be seen as a Good Model, Not a Sob Story. The Telegraph [Internet] Available from: <> [Accessed: 25th February 2015].

  • Jamie Brewer Image Credit: The Indy Channel
  • Winnie Harlow Image Credit: The Huffington Post