Wednesday, Jul 15th

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The Truth Behind the Glamour


The old proverb “judge the art, not the artist” cannot be applied to contemporary creative types. As the events of the past week in fashion have proven, the adage is officially (and rightfully) dead.

For the past twenty years, the name “John Galliano” has been found, frequently, on the fashionista tribe’s perfectly painted lips.  The brilliant former enfant terrible ascended the throne at the House of Dior, where he reigned supreme for fifteen years.  Now the emperor finds himself without his clothes, relegated an outcast by his racist rants.

When he revealed his bigoted views, Galliano instantly dropped a curtain on his influential, imaginative career, yet pulled another back to provide the public with an honest glimpse at the realities of racism within the fashion industry.

The swift, forceful response of Galliano’s longtime employer, Christian Dior, was encouraging and shocking.  Shocking because the acknowledgement of Galliano’s anti-Semitism and his ultimate firing (as a show of zero tolerance for racism) is antithetical to the fashion industry status quo.  It’s a business notorious for denials of racism within its ranks.

Up until these last two weeks, the most frequently discussed race issue within the fashion world was repeated “whiteouts” on the major runways (and the virulent prejudice behind it),   Since 2006, there have been panel discussions, protests, and editorials, and films that document not only the lack of diversity on high fashion runways, but the anti-black racism that pervades the industry.  In spite of these well-chronicled realities, the fashion mainstream –executives, designers, and the press that covers them – stubbornly refuses to acknowledge any anti-black sentiment.

Instead, the absence of color on the runways is half-heartedly explained away by likening skin tone and ethnicity to trends that wax and wane on the high-fashion horizon.

And so, I’ve got to ask: what if Galliano publicly spewed the n-word?  Would his tirade have been dismissed, or would he have been dismissed?  In firing Galliano, was it the interests of human decency that Dior is protecting, or the interests of the company itself?

Dior’s haute couture collections inspire the company’s lucrative sunglasses, fragrance, cosmetics, and accessories lines.  Could the company afford to keep a known bigot as the brains, and the face, behind their global brand? For Dior, it may depend.

The haute couture customer is a very rare bird, and the haute couture customer of African descent is even rarer.  Though demographically our collective spend on clothing and accessories outpaces both our numbers and our economics, the fact remains that although we are influencers, we are not high fashion’s biggest customers.  Additionally, we don’t have a strong presence in the elite ateliers, showrooms, or editorial meetings.  We are largely absent from the decadent heart of the fashion industry.  When it comes to the African diaspora, high fashion is all too content to cop our style, while barring entry into the insular community and, ultimately, rendering us invisible at best, casually vilified at worst.  It’s time the industry acknowledged this, and begins to invoke change.

Racism is despicable, regardless of who it targets.  I just hope that the conversation started by Galliano’s fall from grace inspires the industry to take a good, hard look at itself, and remove the bad eggs – even if they are “golden”.

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