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Black is the New Black at New York Fashion Week 2017

Blacks will play a significant role during New York Fashion Week, but we’re not just talking about gowns or furs. Black people are poised to make a major splash this season—whether it be on the runway, in the front row, or behind the scenes.

“It’s no secret that the world looks to Black culture not just for inspirations on the runway, but for up and coming designer labels,” said Zoey Washington, a celebrity stylist and senior Style Editor at Brit + Co, a San Francisco based digital media and commerce company, who has done stints with Elle, Vogue, People, and Style Watch. “It’s a time for Black culture to be in the forefront whether people recognize it or not.” It starts with the models who are responsible for selling the garments.

Bethann Hardison, who has led the charge to diversify the runway, is pleased with what she considers a recent upswing in diverse models. Hardison famously wrote a scathing letter to the fashion industry in 2007 chastising designers and casting directors for failing to include diverse models in fashion shows. She hasn’t stopped the effort, and her work hasn’t gone unnoticed. Last year, the Council of Fashion Designers of America sent a letter to the fashion community encouraging diverse model castings. Hardison considered that a major victory, and she’s looking for that push to continue.

“There are a lot of nice girls around,” Hardison said of the current crop of diverse models, “The designers are not afraid to take on women of color. They are doing covers of magazines.” Hardison noticed the upswing last year—particularly with designers like Zac Posen who featured more than a half dozen Black models with natural hair and dark complexions walking his show. “We’re in a good place; we’ll see who shows who this season.”

Hardison said she is not looking for a day when runway shows are entirely comprised of Black models. She simply wants representation that mirrors the world.

Washington credits Hardison’s efforts for greater representation on the runway. “It has been very much felt,” she said, “You are seeing a whole new crop of Black models in the fashion world that you haven’t seen in the past four years.”

Another place that has seen growth among people of color is among front row guests, fashion editors, and designers. Arienne Thompson, MoKi Media director of PR, and former USA Today fashion reporter, is also a veteran of Fashion Week. She remembers when fashion week wasn’t as diverse, which was as recent as a just couple of years ago.

“I remember walking into a show and being the only Black person and thinking to myself, hmm, one of these things is not like the other,” she said from her Washington, D.C. office, “Diversity is important because seeing reality is important. You’re in New York; what you are seeing is a cross section of America. When you step into those tents, you want to get at least a slice of that. I understand that fashion is fantasy, art, and aspirational. I feel there is nothing more aspirational then to be surrounded by diversity. What is more aspirational than the feeling that you belong in the room.”

And this season, Black designers will be on everyone’s lips in New York. Washington mentioned “buzzy” designers Tracy Reese, LaQuan Smith, and the rumors of Kanye West’s creative director Virgil Abloh replacing Riccardo Tisci as creative director at Givenchy.

“You’re seeing our faces in every layer of the system,” Washington said, “Obviously it could be more, but it’s definitely changing.”

Not going to New York this season? Check out these influencers, designers, and models for firsthand access from the front row to the show room.

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