NYFW Week loading!!!! Hurraaaah! But first, I needed to chime in on a subject that is currently making waves in the Fashion industry. Fashion giant Gucci created a stir recently on social media, when images surfaced of their 890$ black balaclava knit jumper; which was being sold as part of their Fall Winter 18 collection. Sometime last year, Prada decided to display figurines that seemingly depicted the blackface caricature of the 19th century.
Even more recently, in January 2019, Cartier gathered the “glitterati’s finest” (Vogue said it) for the launch of their latest collection in Paris. While everyone was fired up by the guest list that included Iris Van Herpen and the glitsy extraterrestrial collection, no one paid attention to the “weirdly hooded” individuals serving dinner.#KKK. Thank Goodness for Instagram. How else would i show you evidence?
For them who may not be familiar, “blackface” was a gory depiction of blacks by white supremacists, which started in the 19th Century, where actors applied black make-up satirizing a “black person”. Now considered highly unacceptable though apparently it continues in some countries.
You may be wondering, why the interest “Kenyan” girl? First, I LOVE fashion just as much if not more than the next fashion guru. Second, nothing beats my need to be aware. Thirdly, I am a student of life and an agent of social change. I am motivated by the fact that we are not only to be seen, but to be heard.
We live in a time of constant evolution,of moving forward and lifting others up with us. But most importantly, we live in a time in which you should feel more empowered to own every single, wonderful thing that makes you, you.
Whether we admit it or not, we are all somewhat influenced by fashion. The clothes that we choose to wear on a regular basis are based on personal preference. For some, the clothes they wear might have been worn by a model on the Oscar de La Renta fashion-show. For you that claims you are not, subconsciously, you are. Therefore, it is important not to be blind-sighted by fashion trends and “faux-pas”. Fashion is a culture and should anyone want to emulate or borrow historical culture to infuse into the present; then there should be decency and respect for these cultures; especially if they are prejudiced or marginalized.
Is it possible? Well, it is debatable. Historically, people of color were subject to slavery. It doesn’t really matter whether you coin it as “colonialism” or “imperialism”. At the end of the day, it was slavery. It is sad that iconic couture brands like Gucci who inspired us when they banned the use of fur as a statement against harmful practices in fashion, can expose their carelessness for human rights as they did recently. Does this go to show that neo-colonialism is real even in the fashion industry? If not, then why is it difficult to annihilate the ugly history of inhumanity, that makes up the history of colored people around the world.
For a long time, luxury brands have been riddled with white supremacy connotations. It is only recently that the realities of this began to dawn. Case in point, VOGUE MAGAZINE, in 2018, after 126 years of being in business accepted a black photographer- Tyler Mitchell for Beyonce’s cover. Yet, this only happened because Anna Wintour (Editor-in-Chief, Vogue; who i absolutely love by the way) gave over control to Beyonce for the cover. A moment that made history while still sparking outrage as to whether black superiority was the selling point.
Interestingly, Andre Leon Talley, Fashion Legend and First black male creative director of Vogue had this to say on whether he pushed for diversity during his tenure at Vogue:
” I never pushed for anything. I never pushed anything. I didn’t — Vogue is not a place where you are pushy. You’re not a bully — I don’t go in there — I never pushed for anything. I nuanced my points of view, safely, and realizing that I had to navigate a world that was basically a dominant white world of power. You don’t go in there pushing and saying, you know, ‘We gotta have a black cover.’ The covers are chosen when they are chosen for many, many reasons, for commercial reasons as well as perhaps demographics. I was never part of that. That was not my job. I was not in those meetings. That was not my responsibility. So when the covers are shot, you know, everyone is not brought in to be a participant in the cover decision. That goes between the editor in chief and the art director, and the photographer, and the fashion director who is doing that cover at that time. So you don’t even know what is going to be on the cover until you see it is about to go to print. No one decides that but the editor in chief. “
Yet we wonder why fashion professionals of color seek minority-driven publications instead of large fashion mainstream. Since then, Vogue and many other publications like National Geographic have showed genuine attempts to rectify their mistakes as regards representation and diversity.
Gucci apologized for their “mistake” and even issued an elaborate statement in that regard as to their commitment for human rights. But at the end of the day, it’s just another apology smeared over jarring depictions of people of color. After all it was a “mistake” right?
The purpose of garments is not just to make a fashion statement. Garments are story tellers of freedom, will, even redemption. Fashion in my opinion should be a tool to create cultural shifts leading to fundamental attitude shifts about exploitation which will in effect create life changing perspectives for both men and women in the world. The moment this translates to barbarous impressions of another human being, color notwithstanding, then, there is a problem. A problem that WE ALL should not draw amusement from or be quiet about.
My inspiration is fired up by individuals like Paul Rucker, 49-year-old multi-media artist and TED fellow collecting and creating antiquities that underscore racist realities in America. His latest creations involved bewildering KKK hats draped with bright African regalia on mannequins. A bold statement lending itself to the fact that racism is not being dealt with from a “residual” point but it is a current wave.
Hopefully, next time you go shopping for the latest Chanel bag or Fendi jacket; you might want to stop and think about the statement your putting out there. Fashion designers and all-round fashionistas, let us be bold and deliberate in our choices because people are watching and listening. Finally, let us remember that fashion is not all about the clothes, its mostly about the people wearing them.
Always Love and Light