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Is the Fashion Industry Really More Diverse — or Is It Hollywood?

Magazine cover stats can’t tell the whole story.

Photo: Getty Images

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The semi-annual diversity numbers are in. According to reports from both The Fashion Spot and Fashionista today, fashion magazines picked the most diverse array of cover models in 2016 in recent memory.

Fashionista counted 147 covers in 2016 from Cosmopolitan, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, Allure, W, Teen Vogue, Vogue, InStyle, and Nylon. The editors found that 53 covers, or 36 percent, featured women of color (including Latina or mixed-race stars) — a nearly 17 percent jump from their 2015 count.

The Fashion Spot expanded the count internationally, looking at 679 cover model appearances on a total of 48 magazines across the globe. Across the publications in 2016, 29 percent of cover models were women of color, a 6.2 percent jump from 2015.

The percentage of women of color on international fashion magazine covers, by year.
Image: The Fashion Spot

The fashion industry may be patting itself on the back right now. But before they strain their arms, there’s another element to consider.

Since Anna Wintour arrived at Condé Nast decades ago, magazine covers have been home to celebrities straight from Hollywood, not models born from within the fashion industry. With just a few exceptions (keep slaying, Naomi Campbell), the women of color fronting 2016’s glossies — Aja Naomi King, Willow Smith, Zoe Saldana, Beyoncé, and more — are celebs.

Citing magazine covers as evidence of fashion’s racial diversity may be letting Hollywood take a bit too much credit. The film and TV industries have progressed fitfully when it comes to equal representation of all races and ethnicities; but their progress should not be mistaken for fashion’s, when most magazine covers are largely promos for actresses’ latest work.

Lupita Nyong'o on the November 2016 cover of Elle
Photo: Elle

Tellingly, The Fashion Spot also tallies up diversity on the runways, most recently the spring 2017 shows. That report, released in October 2016 and encompassing all four major “fashion cities” (New York, Milan, Paris, and London), showed smaller numbers: Only 25.4 percent of models were women of color, and that was only a 0.7 percent boost from the fall 2016 shows in February.

Even in New York City specifically, where the runways were most racially diverse, the number was 30.3 percent. In both the US and internationally, magazine covers are more diverse, statistically, than fashion weeks.

If the fashion industry really wants to be more representative of all types of beauty, it will need to go further. When push comes to shove — when the models get cast for runway shows, ad campaigns, look books, e-commerce sites — is when brands and designers need to get serious about diverse representation.