There’s a well-dressed elephant in the room for any person of color attending Fashion Week. No matter how beautiful the models or exquisite the clothes, the question remains: Are Black people being represented in these collections? Many times, that answer is negative.
Purveyors of style are hard-pressed to see a model of color grace the catwalk. It’s even less likely that the designs presented are the brainchild of Black artisans. Among the rows of spectators privileged enough to view a collection at its debut, it’s a rarity to see a group of black or brown faces. Much has been said about the whitewash at Fashion Week, but years later, progress remains elusive.
New York Fashion Week sets the tone for the upcoming shopping season. Editors and buyers descend on Lincoln Center in their best-dressed to discover new collections and dictate which looks end up in magazines, advertisements and ultimately, in the marketplace. Since women of color make up a sizable and dedicated consumer base, it’s crucial that brown and black faces are present from the design room to the department store. But it’s often the case that people of color are underrepresented and ignored.
There are luminaries whose life’s work has helped expand the African-American presence in fashion. Bethann Hardison is one such agent of change. She single-handedly embraces models of color, consults with designers and invests in media that celebrates Black talent.
Designers like Tracy Reese, Stephen Burrows, Lois Samuels, LaQuan Smith, Carly Cushnie of Cushnie et Ochs and Edwing D’Angelo make up a distinguished few that have the resources necessary to present at New York Fashion Week.
Of the myriad of journalists that trickle in and out of Lincoln Center, there are a handful of exceptional editors–Essence Magazine‘s Constance White, Teen Vogue‘s Shiona Turini, The New York Times‘ Simone Oliver, W Magazine‘s Edward Enninful, Michaela Angela Davis, Agnes Cammock and The Daily Beast‘s Robin Givhan–that wield extraordinary power in giving media exposure to Black models and designers.
Blogging, which is a rising phenomenon in the fashion industry, has opened doors for Black faces like LoveBrownSugar‘s Christina Brown, Glamazonsblog‘s Andrea Arterbery and Afrobella‘s Patrice Yursik. However, there are many editors and bloggers who cite racism as the reason they’re shut out of shows and denied invitations. The fashion community does not see the value in a niche, race-specific audience, so mainstream bloggers and publications get priority.
While these industry heavyweights help diversify the white-dominated fashion landscape, Harlem’s Fashion Row stands out as an isolated beacon of Black influence. Founded by Brandice Henderson, HFR offers a memorable presentation of regalia created by Black designers and worn by Black models at the close of New York Fashion Week. Last year’s Harlem’s Fashion Row honored Essence Magazine‘s Emil Wilbekin and accomplished stylist June Ambrose, while introducing designs by talented artists like Kellia Kebero.
It is a testament to the unbridled potential of Blacks in fashion, still untapped by the fashion industry at large.–Jessica Andrews