Anok Yai Was the First Black Model to Open a Prada Show in More Than 20 Years

Last week, Anok Yai took a big step forward for Prada. The 19-year-old model became the second-ever Black woman to open a runway show for the Italian brand. The first was Naomi Campbell back in 1997.

While up-and-comer Yai walked in Prada’s menswear show in January, her historic opening during Milan Fashion Week is not only a much-overdue move for the luxury fashion house, but an important moment for models of colour, she says.

“It was an honour and I’m proud that I was the one chosen to open, but this is bigger than me,” Yai told Vogue in an interview published this morning. “Me opening for one of the top fashion houses is a statement to the world—especially for Black women—that their beauty is something that deserves to be celebrated.”

Representation is something the industry has long struggled with, and progress is being made at a snail’s pace. According to The Fashion Spot’s annual report, racial diversity was only slightly up (0.4 percent) at New York Fashion Week this month, and when it came to size and age, the report found a reverse trend. Out of the 82 major shows in New York this year—where 62.7 percent of models were white—there were fewer plus-size models walking than last season. These stats show that the industry still has a long way to go.

“The stagnation in our racial diversity numbers, the losses in the plus-size and age categories, the infinitesimal growth in the number of transgender runway models reveal that the industry isn’t transforming as quickly as last season’s numbers seemed to indicate,” The Fashion Spot reported. “More designers need to get on board and share the happy burden of progress.”

While we were thrilled to see Yai’s big moment on the Prada runway, it was definitely a shocking reminder of how few and far between those moments are at major fashion shows. Here’s hoping we see a lot more of this face—and other models of colour—in seasons to come.

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