If you’re in New York right now, then you’re probably sensing it already.
Your senses are heightened each time you pass by a store window. Your fingers are itching to scoop up each and every September issue out right now. Your friends and yourself have already begun to map out your plan of attack for this year’s Fashion Night Out. Being in New York during Fashion week, it’s extremely difficult for even the most fashionphobic individuals to distance themselves from the fabulous festivities. The colors, the textures, the cuts, the designs will draw you in and get the best of you. Yet, one glance at the runways and one thing becomes clear: we are certainly in the model minority. A New Yorker by the way of Detroit, Sharifa Crawford is a devout fashionista who finds herself conflicted: “I’ve found that loving and admiring a thing that refuses to love you back creates quite the tumultuous and heart wrenching relationship.” In her essay, Sharifa shares with us why she loves an industry that refuses to recognize her and provides possible solutions to right this fashion wrong.
Originally posted at XHIBIT P (www.xhibitp.com)
Written by Sharifa Crawford
My favorite events of the year commence every spring and fall when Fashion Week takes over New York City. As a self-proclaimed clotheshorse, a former retail stylist, and an avid follower of fashion shows, trends, and the industry, I appreciate the art of fashion as much as I do the drama. However, I’ve found that loving and admiring a thing that refuses to love you back creates quite the tumultuous and heart wrenching relationship.
Robin Givhan, a native Detroiter and former fashion editor for The Washington Post, recently addressed this issues in her article ‘Why Fashion Keeps Tripping Over Race: The paint-chip problem, revisited’ for New York Magazine. In the piece, she discusses the lack of diversity in the fashion industry, the industry’s failure to acknowledge the lack of minorities in positions of influence (designers, editors, and publicists), and the overall contradictory image of an industry often hailed as progressive, cosmopolitan, and open-minded.
Givhan opens the piece by recounting a moment during the Spring 2011 Lanvin show when, in the middle of the presentation, a group of five black models cloaked in tropical prints (a far contrast from the rest of the shows’ aesthetic) proceeded down the runway together. For the first and only time during the show, sections of the audience broke into applause. Givhan asserts that they “were cheering the black women, but not because they had performed dramatic runway pyrotechnics. They were cheering the women for the great accomplishment of simply being black, which, one might argue, in an industry that remains stubbornly homogeneous in many respects, is a feat worth getting excited about.” While I do appreciate the moment of recognition of black beauty in that moment, I find it quite problematic that this recognition of beauty essentially stemmed from an ongoing dearth of black models on the runway.
Even though I advocate and celebrate fashion to no end, this passion has also become the source of an internal conflict due to the fact that fashion doesn’t represent or celebrate consumers like myself—women of color. Interestingly enough, those individuals in the fashion industry pride themselves on being innovative and cutting edge, yet as our society’s racial and ethnic make-up continuous to evolve into a more colorful melting pot, the industry maintains a one-dimensional Western standard of beauty that just isn’t representative of our nation or the world, for that matter. Don’t get me wrong—designers can hire whomever they want to have featured in their seasonal ad campaigns or walk the runway, but the blatant and consistent exclusion of minority models is completely behind the times, and quite frankly, out of fashion.
As society changes, designers and editors should be mindful of the fact that the buying power has also begun to shift and transform the demographics of traditional consumers. During Fashion Night Out in New York in September 2010, I was fascinated with the diversity of attendees at the Ralph Lauren Polo store in Soho to see Janelle Monae perform. While Ralph Lauren is known for its signature preppy polo shirts and blazers, the Polo Fashion Night Out scene included the uptown smart-set, the young, and fashionable teenagers from Harlem and Brooklyn, and the downtown fashionably layered set were all sporting the polo look in their own unique way.
In order to expand the industries attitude and perception on race, it’s crucial to have a more diverse makeup of employees within designer, magazine, and publicity firm ranks. Diversity in the workplace is invaluable because you have the ability to draw ideas from people with varied backgrounds (socio-economically, culturally, religiously, and geographically). This, in turn, allows businesses to be able to truly understand their current and prospective clientele and consequently helps businesses better compete in the global marketplace. Andrew Leon Talley, contributing editor and former fashion editor of Vogue Magazine, has been an influential figure in using his position to support designers of color including Tracy Reese and Rachel Roy, as well as encourage diversity within the industry by including more ethnic models in magazine spreads and supporting initiatives such as the Met’s Multicultural Audience Development Initiative, CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, and the famous 2008 Vogue Italia All-Black issue.
While my conflict with fashion has not yet been resolved, I still continue to support an often-contradictory industry by recognizing that my voice has value and the dollar bills with which to back it. In terms of taking action, whenever a published story features a minority designer, manufacturer, or the like, I write to the editor of the magazine and voice my support for the piece. Another way I back up my beliefs is by supporting designers of color and fashion publications targeted towards people of color, such as Essence Magazine. While the change will not be instantaneous, I do see a transformation on the fashion horizon. For as the saying goes, Chanel wasn’t built in a day!