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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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OUT WITH THE OLD AND IN WITH THE NEW... TO YOU!

MAKING THE CASE FOR VINTAGE & SUSTAINABILITY IN THE NEW YEAR

While taking some much needed R&R over the holidays, I started making some keen observations about my past year’s spending. I began to realize that running Neutral Ground had become more than a business. It was actually influencing my lifestyle. Sustainability, a big current day buzzword, was seeping into how I purchased everything. 

Now, one might think that being a vintage and designer curator, I’d be the sustainability queen. But in all honesty, my initial take on wearing pre-owned pieces had more to do with style and not being a follower than it did with the environment. It also had to do with my opinion that a level of craftsmanship and quality was missing in modern day wear.

The detailing on this  Geoffrey Beene silk twill dress  is impeccable. You don’t find self covered buttons and welt buttonholes in typical garments anymore.

The detailing on this Geoffrey Beene silk twill dress is impeccable. You don’t find self covered buttons and welt buttonholes in typical garments anymore.

Yet, as I delved deeper into this work last year, I began to realize so much more about the fashion industry and the waste and exploitation that goes into mass production. 

When I went on buying trips, far too often I’d come across fairly new pieces from H&M, Forever 21 and similar fast fashion chains promoted as “vintage”. Not only is there nothing vintage about an item produced and discarded in less than a year, the majority of these items are cheaply produced on the backs of poorly paid women and children in developing countries. 

So while seeking items for personal wear, I started making a concerted effort to buy vintage and pre-owned from people whose taste I admired. Or, I’d purchase interesting pieces from small, local makers. I was meeting so many at the pop-ups I was participating in, I felt like a new and exclusive world was opening up to me. I also felt a personal connection to these creatives and was delighted to support them. 

Oversized knit cardigan from SF shop  Relove  and  Ungaro blouse  and Missoni pants from Neutral Ground.

Oversized knit cardigan from SF shop Relove and Ungaro blouse and Missoni pants from Neutral Ground.


Then slowly this ethic started seeping into items I’d buy for my home, my skin and beauty products, and the gifts I’d purchase for family and friends.

A roundup of some items I gifted this holiday from small female business owners. (Clockwise from the top)- A  Sseko  purse from  Alyce on Grand , the Unity tee from  Owl n Wood  and an  Unoeth  leather tote.

A roundup of some items I gifted this holiday from small female business owners. (Clockwise from the top)- A Sseko purse from Alyce on Grand, the Unity tee from Owl n Wood and an Unoeth leather tote.


All of this to say, through my work I am slowly becoming more of the person I want to be in this world- someone who recognizes style and social responsibility can work hand and hand.

So I challenge you to make a statement this year through sustainability. Be it in your wardrobe, your home, the products you use on your body, the foods you consume-  they can be both beautifully unique and beneficial for our world.

XO- Alysha