Where did the transgender and plus-size models go?

Marc Jacobs, "America."
Marc Jacobs, "America."

The spring 2016 season saw a small increase in racial diversity among models in fashion ads, but transgender and plus-size models are nowhere to be seen

If pop culture drives ads, this should be the year for transgender and plus-size models — Caitlyn Jenner has her own TV show, "Sports Illustrated" placed its first plus-size swimsuit model on the cover, and movies "The Danish Girl" and "Tangerine" had transgender main characters. Yet, the Spring 2016 season has seen little improvement, according to a report conducted by The Fashion Spot, a website that covers fashion, beauty and celebrity trends. 

For the study, The Fashion Spot examined 422 model appearances in ads and runway shows this spring. The study found that only six of those models could be considered plus-sized (over size 12), a mere 1.4%. And five out of these six women were cast for plus-size labels. The exception was the Aerie Real campaign for American Eagle, which featured unretouched models including Iskra Lawrence, a plus-sized model that was originally dropped from her first agency for being too big. Lawrence now has a large following of 1.9 million on Instagram and 89,700 followers on Twitter.     

Compared to a similar study in fall 2015, the findings were disappointing when it came to the number of transgender models too. Last season, eight transgender models were cast in runway shows at Fashion Weeks in New York, Paris and London, but this season there were zero in shows, billboards or magazines.

Diesel’s Spring 2016 campaign came the closest to breaking gender norms with models wearing androgynous clothing. Although not connected to a brand, Caitlyn Jenner will reportedly appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated this summer sporting nothing but an American flag and her Olympic gold medal.

Transgender branding cracks the mainstream

Meanwhile, the percentage of ethnic models has amplified from last season, if only slightly. "We can report that tentative progress has been made toward inclusion, though it’s a long road ahead and season to season, the numbers are ever fluctuating," the report says.

The Fashion Spot looked at 236 fashion print campaigns and found that 78.2% of the models in ads were white, 8.3% Black, 4% Asian and 3.8% Latina. The number of Black and Latina models has doubled since the Fall 2015 season when Black models made up 4.4% of the total and Latina models made up 1.7%.

The study points out that Marc Jacobs had the most diverse campaign for Spring 2016. Dubbed "America," the campaign features spots with people of different sizes, ethnicities, genders and backgrounds speaking about what America means to them.

"The spectrum of individuals photographed in our Spring/Summer 2016 ad campaign represent a celebration of my America. In collaboration with photographer David Sims and stylist Katie Grand, the people featured in our campaign personify this collection of fashion through their individuality," the designer wrote on his brand’s website, "Collectively, they embody and celebrate the spirit and beauty of equality."

The lack of diversity in fashion advertising is, in many ways, a result of tight budgets and a fear of risk, says Lauren Prince, president and chief exectuive of Chandelier Creative, which works with fashion brands such as Salvatore, Ferragamo, Net-a-Porter and Old Navy.

"Production for a campaign can be expensive, and when brands are selecting one to two models to shoot, they more often than not go for a safe/recognized face," she said in an e-mail message. "There are not as many well-known diverse models that are global stars. So, it's harder to take that risk when they only have few chances to create a brand campaign, and one that speaks to their customer."

But despite the ecomomics, and the Fashion Spot findings, the industry is showing signs of diversifying, Prince believes."Brands have started to become more aware of the inclusion of diversity in ads and on the runway." she said. "Just recently, the Chanel show in Cuba had a large mix of models as well as Calvin Klein's new campaigns (reflecting the diversity of the audience)."

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