WHY REPRESENTATION MATTERS ON THE RUNWAY

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If you follow us on Instagram, you’ve likely noticed my unusual preoccupation with Valentino in the past week. Last week marked Spring 2019 Haute Couture fashion week in Paris and the runway show Maison Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli put on was unlike anything I’d ever seen.

For a little context,  haute couture fashion shows are the most exclusive of all runway shows.  You’ll see the most creative, expensive, and often outlandish offerings a design house to offer. Maison Valentino is the couture wing of the Valentino brand. So what made the Spring 2019 show anything but the usual show of excess and unattainability? One word, inclusivity. Not buying it? Take a look!

Now I realize there was a lot to process. Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” playing(which I coincidentally walked down the aisle to), Céline Dion weeping in the audience and Naomi Campbell closing the show after a 14 year absence from the Valentino runway, were reason enough to lose one’s mind!

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But more than the spectacle of celebrity, what came boldly down the Valentino runway was a visionary, in your face expression of Black female beauty.  43 Black women glided down the runway in some of the most spectacular garments ever! Not since the historic ‘73 Battle at Versailles and the late Carla Sozzani’s 2018 Italian Vogue Black issue has high fashion made such a definitive statement.

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For me, this was a fashion girl’s Black Panther moment and a real testament to why representation matters. In watching the 17+ minute video presentation over and over, I’ve grown teary eyed each time.

While we can debate how much couture has to do with real life, or the average person’s finances and priorities, there is a role that fantasy plays in how we envision ourselves and where we think we can go. 

Taken from the designer Piccioli himself, “Couture is a dream.” “Although it celebrates uniqueness, which is a synonym for diversity, it has always meant to be for white people.” This presentation intentionally turned that notion on its head. Read the designer’s full statement below the pic:

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pppiccioli

Naomi & I. 19,03. 23.01.19
Couture is a dream.
Although it celebrates uniqueness, which is a synonym for diversity, it has always meant to be for white people.
From the Forties, the pioneering magazines Ebony and Jet, have been making a great effort to give black beauty the deserved dignity.
Franca published the Black Issue, ten years ago, demonstrating to be a courageous woman and a real visionary.
To have a Roman brand represented by Black Beauty goes against all the xenophobia in Italy and, hopefully, all over the world. With this Valentino Haute Couture collection, my hope is to deliver the message, as strong as I can.
Change the aesthetic and you change the perception of people more than any slogan.
Everyone is allowed to dream, this is the inclusivity of Haute Couture.
This is the Haute Couture Naomi and I believe in.
@naomi


While I don’t think Black women need couture or outside forces to tell us we are desirable or valuable, to have a European brand take this stand on inclusivity at its premiere runway event, at a time when racism and hate seem to be taking over our world, is extremely powerful. 

So I challenge the design world to recognize the power they have to change narratives and perceptions through aesthetics. I thank Pierpaolo Piccioli for putting forth a vision of haute couture that includes us all and I challenge more fashion creatives to become allies in this fight.

And with that, I will continue to dress up at every opportunity, fighting my own fashion revolution, and hope you’ll do the same;) All day, everyday, fashion!

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