A little over a week ago, a writer for French Elle wrote a blog post narrating the American “black-geoisie’s” adoption of white codes of fashion to go from street to chic. The piece didn’t go over so well here, and it obviously didn’t well with French natives who have written an open letter, calling the magazine out on it’s carelessness and lack of black representation.
The letter, published in Le Monde, was written by a group of black French celebrities including supermodel Noémie Lenoir, Cahiers du Cinéma critic Vincent Malausa, and Morehouse College’s Julius E. Coles. Here’s what it says:
“Elle magazine informs us that in fashion, in 2012, “the ‘black-geoisie’ has finally integrated white codes” of dress. Moreover, “chic has at last become a plausible option for a community that previously knew only streetwear.” While for decades blacks were dressed as hoodie-clad “thugs” [Translation note: cailleras, the word given here as “thugs,” intentionally recalls “racaille,” the derogatory term infamously used by then-interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy to describe the banlieue rioters of 2005, which is most often translated as “scum”], they have finally understood, through the education of white people, that they must pay more attention to their appearance.
“It is high time for the editors of Elle to venture out of their glass-enclosed headquarters in the business district of Levallois-Perret to mix with the population, to see what black people are really like, and how they dress in real life. It is also time for them to realize that there are many black women in France. Black people do not all live in the United States, and they are not all pop singers, film actors, and sport stars.
“Why not,” asks the open letter, “hire some black editors? Call us crazy, but why not have a black woman on the cover? Just for once.”‘
Tell ‘em how you really feel.
The authors clearly have several good arguments and, as has been pointed out on numerous sites, French Elle is a weekly magazine—out of 52 cover opportunities, it shouldn’t be hard to find black models to fill the space. In 2011, only two non-white models covered the mag, and considering the publication is keen on placing white American models on it’s cover, it could certainly give a top black American woman cover space, since they love to write about them so much.
Being a black gay male in the fashion industry for nearly two decades, this type of bias is not new to me. What shocks me is that French Elle allowed this to be printed, especially since the last fiasco, when a dutch magazine called Rihanna a “nigger-bitch”, (affectionately ofcourse, at least that is there claim.) Racism is the international fashion industry has always been that huge,pink, bedazzled elephant in the room that nobody wants to discuss, always astonished that the “jeweled pachyderm of double-standard” is in such a “diverse” industry. There are approx 200,000 black men and women working in the New York apparel industry , but very are able to crash through the “glass ceiling”, into the rarefied executive positions,(Design Director or Head Designer). I made Design director of a small sports apparel company some years back, and it was the most wonderful accomplishment of my career. The company that gave me this position was inconsequential,small, but a wonderful environment that allowed my talents to shine so brightly. I remember talking to other design professionals about our respected positions, grips,bosses,etc. One occasion,when asked what my positions was, I proudly said “Design director”. After a look of either shock, quit dismay, or disbelief , the other individual asked for what company. I named my employer, thinking it did not make any difference. He then chuckled, and said something that I will never forget, ” You know why they gave you the position, did they get you cheap?” I listened to his response , did not say anything. ” You’re a black guy, great P.R. for them” , he said bluntly. It never had dawned on me that I was given the job for any other reason other than my 8:30 am -9:30pm work days, my attention to detail, and the fact that the past two product lines that I designed for them, were selling like ‘hot-cakes’ , with customers begging for more. Racism and bias in the apparel industry is subtle, but devastating to many. Inherent long hours and travel is expected in a career that requires a dedication that many find unusual because it’s a creative field. I am never one to scream “racism onboard!!!! aisle 1″, I feel much more comfortable with just grouping such individuals into the ” they don’t know any better” category .
But there are some circumstances where racism clearly is present, and many do nothing, even thinking that the individual is “creatively eccentric”. Racism and biased behavior, a part of the creative process?,…ooookkk. Many black professionals in the design industry are very close-knit, and often compare “war stories”. Preconceived identity ( perspective employer assumes you are white, based on your fabulous resume’, and is clearly shocked to see a brown face), overlooked concerning promotions or key design opportunities, lack of department funding and or support from executives,etc. are just a few of the experiences that I have heard over the years. So when reading the French Elle article, I was not taken aback, but breathed a sigh of relief. The “jeweled pachyderm of double-standards” sashayed onto the international fashion scene once again, this time for millions to witness, and no one thought she was “creatively eccentric”, but instead saw her for what she was,ugly and out-dated, and like last years trends,should be done away with.