12 Empowering Moments That Set a New Standard for Fashion Week

This season's hottest trend? Inclusivity. Look back at the groundbreaking runway moments that ushered in a new era for New York Fashion Week and beyond.

By McKenna Aiello Sep 06, 2021 10:00 AMTags
Watch: New York Fashion Week Christian Siriano Talks Next Star to Dress

The most important month in fashion is officially here, and a push for inclusivity and diversity is more crucial than ever. 

As New York Fashion Week eases back into a bit of normalcy following unprecedented limitations caused by the coronavirus pandemic, participating designers will be expected to pick up where industry trailblazers left off.

According to The Fashion Spot's Diversity Report from fashion month fall/winter 2021, which took place this past February, there's progress to be made (and milestones to be celebrated!) going into September's global festivities.

Racial diversity on the runway reached a record high, with 43 percent of shows featuring models of color.

Conversely, only 19 plus-size models appeared on last season's runways, compared to 34 during the season before. And when it comes to gender diversity, The Fashion Spot reported that 12 transgender and non-binary models walked last season, a steep decrease compared to spring/summer 2021's 20 models. 

Despite this, there's much to be said about the breakthrough moments that inspired us to love the skin we're in.

Every Celebrity at Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2022

Revisit groundbreaking designers and models that ushered in a new era for New York Fashion Week and beyond in our gallery below.

Making History

As part of Moschino's Spring-Summer 2022 show at New York Fashion Week in 2021, Aaron Rose Philip made history by becoming the first model using a wheelchair to ever head down the runway for a major luxury fashion brand. The literal trailblazer hopes it's part of a larger shift within the fashion industry, saying she wants to see the casting echoed in future NYFW showcases. 

"I hope this is the start of more and inspires & empowers more global brands at the same level to truly work towards including and normalizing disabled presences and talents in their showcases," Philip wrote on Instagram about her debut. "Disabled people, models and talents matter so much and we can do so much as long as the steps are taken to accommodate us properly. Black trans girls & women matter and are beautiful and I thank God that we are being realized more and more for the gentle souls that we are."

Time for Everyone to Shine

At Rihanna's first Savage X Fenty New York Fashion Week show for fall/winter 2018, the star made it clear that every woman is an important part of her world, as models of all different body shapes and ethnicities—and even some pregnant models—proudly sported her lingerie designs.

"Women are the strongest people on earth," the singer told E! News at the time. "Our bodies alone are made to do so many different things and they're designed in so many different unique ways. If you have the blessing to be able to bring life into this world it should be celebrated as well. I'm never going to tell a woman she can't have job with me because I can't have a pregnant lady [modeling] lingerie or makeup. I'll always celebrate women in all of their journeys."

In fact, model Slick Woods went into labor just moments after she stepped off Rih-Rih's runway.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Thanks to the pioneering vision of creative director and founder Becca McCharen-Tran, Chromat continues to push all the right envelopes at fashion week. Case in point? Their spring/summer 2019 show, where women who did not fit the modeling industry's archaic sizing standards rocked "sample size" T-shirts down the runway. 

Tess Holliday modeled an up-cycled version of the trend the following year. The body positivity activist called the opportunity "one of the most memorable and emotional moments of my entire career," writing on Instagram at the time, "To know that I've spent my entire career advocating for more diversity in the fashion industry, and to be able to share the runway with so many others with the same mission was a feeling I will never forget."

Age Is Just a Number

It's not every day a designer's grandmother walks the runway, but it was a very good day when designer Brandon Maxwell's "Mammaw" did for his spring/summer 2019 show at New York Fashion Week. The style savant accompanied his beloved grandmother, then 81-year-old Louise Johnson, down the catwalk as she donned a vibrant red pantsuit of his own design.

This isn't the first time Maxwell has honored Johnson—she also starred in his fall 2018 campaign. "I just thought right now, I'm in a place in my life where I'm thinking a lot about who I am and where I'm from and what made me who I am, and very core to that story obviously is my grandmother," he previously told Glamour. "She really pushed me to do what I do today. And I think that there's no better way to honor that than giving her that space." 

Change Makers

Media insiders Lindsay Peoples Wagner and Sandrine Charles co-founded the Black in Fashion Council to uplift and advocate for Black individuals working in the fashion and beauty world. Following a successful launch in 2020, the organization will once again partner with IMG to spotlight 13 Black designers at a NYFW showroom. 

"These kinds of opportunities are exactly what Black designers need," Peoples Wagner and Charles told Vogue, "especially in the midst of this pandemic, as we continue supporting their creative endeavors and help them take things to the next level." 

We Are the World

Taking a step toward sustainability, Collina Strada urged the importance of environmentally conscious fashion with its Fall 2020 collection at New York Fashion Week in February 2020. Affectionately calling her collection "Garden Ho" per Vogue, designer Hillary Taymour's vision came to life with models—including trans models, a pregnant woman, artists, and even two children—all dressed in upcycled ensembles carrying bedazzled water bottles to encourage reusability amidst global climate change. 

"The ethos of Collina Strada has always been to care and raise awareness towards social injustice, sustainability in fashion, and overall equality," Taymour told Something Curated in 2020. "I am always interested in new technology based fabrics that I can work with that lower our carbon footprint."

Trans Is Beautiful

Underwear brand Marco Marco made history at New York Fashion Week in 2018 by casting an entirely transgender and non-binary lineup of models. Among those who participated in the groundbreaking moment included Pose stars Dominique Jackson and Angelica Ross, Transparent star Trace Lysette and YouTube personality Gigi Gorgeous

"Although I have always had trans and non-binary people in my shows, it became apparent to me that their presence was often overshadowed by cis gay men or cis gay men in drag," designer Marco Morante told Mic. "I wanted to create a space to celebrate trans bodies. This was an opportunity for their presence to be undeniable and reinforce that trans is beautiful."

Setting a New Norm

While some designers continue to struggle with having their consumers reflected on their runways, Chromat's Becca McCharen-Tran puts such excuses to shame by showcasing models of different sizes, ethnicities, ages, genders and abilities on her runway year after year.

For breast cancer survivor Ericka Hart, who has proudly sported her mastectomy scars on runways for Chomat, the opportunity does not go unnoticed. "Put breast cancer survivors in spaces that have nothing to do with breast cancer," she wrote on social media.

Similarly, model Mama Cax, who passed away in Dec. 2019, shined a light on cancer survivors and amputees by walking for Chromat. 

Reenvisioning Standards of Beauty

Melanie Gaydos, who was born with a rare genetic condition called ectodermal dysplasia, first made waves at New York Fashion Week in 2015. 

She understands how her physical attributes may have helped her stand out in a sea of prototypical cover girls, but it's not what drives her passion.

"When I'm at fashion week, I can tell what people think of me because of the way they interact with me," she told Harper's Bazaar in 2017. "I was never, ever bothered by the way that I look. It has nothing to do with me."

Of progressive changes in the modeling world, Gaydos remarked, "Every year it seems to broaden and become a little more open-minded. I truly do think that fashion is reimagining its ideals, but it's only because people such as myself are actually making it happen."

A True Trailblazer

Halima Aden has made an indelible mark on the fashion industry. After becoming the first contestant to wear a hijab at the Miss Minnesota USA pageant in 2016, she made her New York Fashion Week runway debut for Kanye West's Yeezy and made history by becoming the first hijab-wearing model to sign to a major modeling agency. 

Since then, she's opened door after door for other rising stars like her. In 2020 she told Harper's Bazaar, "I never saw that kind of representation, a hijab-wearing model, before I came along. And to see all the changes in the short three years that I have been in the industry, like seeing a hijab-wearing model, has been amazing. This year, especially, I feel like every agency has a hijab-wearing model. We're seeing so much representation, and it's growing. It has surpassed me."

Pregnancy Power

Baby bumps are increasingly among the beautiful shapes seen at fashion week. Longtime model Lily Aldridge strutted in Brandon Maxwell's spring/summer 2019 show while five months pregnant with her and husband Caleb Followill's second child.

"I've walked few runways in my life and this is a moment that I'll look back on forever with great emotion," Aldridge wrote on social media. "It was so much fun being backstage will all the girls, everyone was so uplifting and rubbing my belly celebrating this beautiful journey with me. nothing but empowerment at Brandon Maxwell." 

Taking Fashion To New Heights

As part of his 2022 Spring-Summer collection in 2021, LaQuan Smith took fashion to bold new heights—literally—by transforming the Empire State Building into his very own runway. Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the collection celebrated the Big Apple and effortlessly imbued the relaxed, comfortable clothes we've all been wearing since the pandemic began with the city's quintessential high fashion energy. 

"My approach to [this] collection was sort of bridging the two extreme feelings," Smith told PopSugar about the collection. "It's the idea of what comfortability and sexy looks like in one reward."

A More Inclusive Future

Tommy Hilfiger is among the few mainstream fashion brands designing dedicated collections of adaptive clothing, which help those with disabilities or limited mobility. The non-profit organization Runway of Dreams teamed up with Tommy Hilfiger, as well as retailers like Target, JCPenny and Kohl's, to produce an adaptive fashion show, which took place at NYFW on Sept. 9. 

Full Figured Fierceness

While plus-size models have not yet become a standard on every catwalk, more and more designers are committed to making the fashion industry a more progressive, inclusive space. Such brands include Christian Siriano, Prabal Gurung, Tommy Hilfiger, Cushnie et Ochs and Chromat. 

Project Runway alum Christian Siriano is at the forefront of such changes, and there's no better proof than his fall/winter 2018 show at New York Fashion Week. The 10-year anniversary show celebrated a vast range of body sizes and shapes in red carpet worthy gowns. Models included Ashley GrahamCandice Huffine, as well as actresses Danielle Brooks and Selma Blair

Making a Statement

New York Fashion Week is all about making a statement and in the 2018 season—it was a political one. Christian Siriano and Jeremy Scott raised their voices and incorporated their own messages into their shows.

For Siriano, that meant expressing support for New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon. In addition to sending a model down the runway wearing a black T-shirt that read, "Vote for Cynthia," he also rocked one himself (it read "I'm Voting for Cynthia") as he made his finale walk.

Meanwhile, Scott focused on protesting then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. "Tell your senator no on Kavanaugh," his T-shirt read, along with a telephone number. "Women's rights, reproductive rights, LGBT rights, affirmative action—you know, it's all at stake with this one man," the designer told the APvia Marie Claire.

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