(The Root) — On Thursday, at his Spring 2014 runway show in Paris, designer Rick Owens put forth a challenge to the rest of the fashion world: When it comes to diversity, step up your game.

He didn't say those words exactly, but he expressed them by bringing diversity to the runway in a style that would probably make Bethann Hardison proud, and had people in the audience and the models themselves in tears. Owens brought step teams from New York City (Soul Steppers of New York) and Washington, D.C. (Momentum and Zetas), and had them perform in clothes from his Spring 2014 ready-to-wear collection.


During the recent Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, diversity on the runways (or lack thereof) became a much-discussed issue. Hardison, along with black models such as Naomi Campbell and Jessica White, vocalized the notable absence of color, as did Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion writer Robin Givhan, who told New York magazine's The Cut blog, "I can remember the first story I ever wrote about how homogeneous the runways were, and it was like 1996, 1997. It just keeps coming around, and at a certain point you do wonder, why is this so difficult to grasp?"

Givhan also discussed her work on a book about the "Battle of Versailles" fashion show. In 1973, Parisian and American designers were pitted against each other in a benefit fashion show to restore the Palace of Versailles. Those who witnessed it went on to say that the American designers stole the spotlight largely because of their use of black models.


Owens, a California native, harked back to that infamous show with his use of black models and then some. By taking the step dance tradition of African-American sororities and fraternities, Owens displayed diversity and embedded it in culture. "I thought putting that on a Paris runway was just the sort of collision I love," he told the Wall Street Journal.

Check out footage of the show:

Jozen Cummings is the author and creator of the popular relationship blog Until I Get Married, which is currently in development for a television series with Warner Bros. He also hosts a weekly podcast with WNYC about Empire called Empire Afterparty, is a contributor at VerySmartBrothas.com and works at Twitter as an editorial curator. Follow him on Twitter.

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