by Shardae Jefferson
Diversity in the fashion industry has been and still is an uphill battle, but there have been pivotal moments in 2018 that show progression. With a slew of black women covering the September edition (the most important edition), of various fashion magazines, there has been a large “hooray” across the board as people of color continue to fight for their voices to be heard. While there is still an immense amount of work to be done, it is important to highlight triumphs, as they show that the battle is worth fighting.
In June of 2018, we witness a touch of exclusivity as Issa Rae hosted the CFDA Fashion Awards which were founded in 1981. Rae began her journey as a Youtuber and turned into a phenomenon that caught the sights of HBO.
Issa Rae is also the first person of color to host the fashion awards and paid homage to black designers by exclusively wearing their designs throughout the show. During her opening monologue, Rae expressed her sentiments about being the first person of color to host the CFDA awards by saying, “Which is crazy. Especially considering the impact black culture has had on fashion. We’ve gone from–check this–we’ve gone from having white designers study black culture to make black clothes for white people that are too expensive for black people to buy, to Virgil Abloh becoming the first African-American artistic director at Louis Vuitton.”
From creating streetwear in Chicago to being appointed the artistic director of Louis Vuitton men’s in March of 2018, Abloh has paved the way for creatives, and shown designers of color that “you can do it too.”
Abloh is Ghanaian-American and has a long creative history starting with styling Kanye, creating a streetwear brand named Pyrex in 2013, to creating Off-White which became a luxury brand in a very untraditional way. With a degree in engineering and masters degree in architecture, Abloh has transitioned into a role at Louis Vuitton which is the oldest and one of the most prominent luxury brands by remaining true to himself. Abloh succeeded Kim Jones and prior to this year, there has never been a person of color that led the brand.
In an interview for British Vogue, Abloh explains that “I did not ever think that I could be a designer with a capital D because no one looked like me plain and simple.” Currently day there is only one other person of color that is an artistic director for a fashion house, which is Olivier Rousteing at Balmain.
“It actually wasn’t me on the runway. It was the community. That show was us,” Abloh says in regards to his emotional hug with Kanye West at the end of the presentation.
Another nod to black creatives in the fashion industry was shown as Gucci partnered with Dapper Dan to create a collection around his works from the 80’s and 90’s. Prior to this partnership, Gucci used the designs of Dapper Dan without including him which caused an uproar by the community of people that supported him.
Dapper Dan rose to fame by creating eccentric and garments for rappers, athletes, and street legends, whilst excessively using luxury logos. In 1992 his store on 125th street was shut down due to trademark infringement, so this collaboration exudes black culture that was reflective of the 80s and more importantly triumphs. “The customer I was dealing with, these are people who hadn’t had the luxury of going to stores downtown like to Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Fendi,” Dapper Dan reflects in an interview on Gucci’s podcast. “I was selling a feeling as much I was a garment. To make them feel important. To make them feel like somebody.”
Though these are only a few examples of progress, the fashion industry seems to be moving toward a more inclusive environment. Alternatively, there is still work that needs to be done in terms of casting more models of color, placing people of color in positions of power at large media companies and magazines, and in doing so the fashion industry will create a table that is a melting pot of creatives with an opportunity to showcase their skills.