Redefining Protest

The recent PR fiascos in fashion took no break for Black History Month. In fact, some even felt that brands had decided to use the month as an opportunity to stir up some buzz by antagonizing the Black community. Balmain’s late January blackface incident, Gucci’s questionable sweater design and Burberry’s blatantly bizarre use of a noose on the runway caused understandable outrage on social media.

As with all social media conversations sparked by outrage, boycotting inevitably came up. Most people seem to agree that if brands can’t be culturally sensitive then they don’t deserve the Black dollar, yet it still seems boycotting is something that’s hard for us to commit to.

Just as everyone else, arguably even more, luxury brands are an aspiration for much of the Black community. Labels are a symbol of wealth and as an oppressed people, it feels good to look and feel upper-class occasionally; furthermore, for those who have obtained substantial wealth it feels good to finally flaunt. This is why there are countless Gucci and Prada references in hip-hop.

In the spirit of protest, though, Young MA says at the end of her “Thotiana” remix, “we ain’t buying Gucci, we ain’t buying Prada,” likely referencing the aforementioned Gucci sweater as well as Prada keychains that went viral in December 2018 for similar reasons.

However, when discussing protests we may have to broaden how we view the issue. I saw someone on Twitter note that Black people can’t protest luxury brands because we buy knockoffs instead of the real thing. While I think it’s important to note that everyone buys knockoffs, not just Black people, this got me thinking about the stigma behind fake luxury pieces, because although they’re common they’re still a source of shame.

What Dapper Dan proved over 30 years ago, though, is that it doesn’t matter if its authentic as long as it fly. His now iconic work was often made from knockoff materials because at the time high-end brands had no interest in this Black man’s shop in Harlem. He was a pest who received numerous cease and desist letters.

Fast forward to 2019 and we’re simultaneously looking for an effective means of protest while shaming people wearing fake labels. To me, the answer is evident. While I obviously see that value in authentic fashion and wouldn’t normally encourage counterfeits, there is no protest in doing what you should and normally would do.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

 

Balmain, Black Face and (Possibly Fake) Ignorance

I almost can’t believe that I’m writing this in the year of our Lord 2019, but then again stuff like this shouldn’t be a surprise anymore.

Balmain closed Couture Week in Paris on January 23 with Creative Director Oliver Rousteing’s first-ever couture collection. The show was supposed to be a big one for obvious reasons: it was Rousteing’s first couture collection, it was the week closer and it was Balmain’s first couture showing in 16 years. However, it ended up being the talk of the industry for something no one expected: the beauty look.

Rousteing’s Spring/Summer 2019 vision was one in complete black and white apparently as models were covered in either ghost white or pitch black makeup depending on their skin tone. The odd beauty look, which was done by Val Garland, was immediately called out by many on social media as black face (and white face).

Of course there were also those who argued that the makeup couldn’t have been rooted in racism because Rousteing is partially Black himself and there was white face involved as well. It should be pointed out, though that Rousteing was raised by adopted white parents and doesn’t identify as a particular race, but as human. I will also add that I don’t believe the beauty look was rooted in malicious racism either. I believe it was rooted in tone-deafness, which is almost just as bad in this age of information.

A simple search into black face would reveal its ugly history in minstrel shows. White actors dressed in black face perpetuated stereotypes as a means of entertainment and justifying racism for years and when Black actors were finally given opportunities to work they were forced to don the same black face.

To present a beauty look even reminiscent of this is irresponsible and offensive, but it seems that such avoidable irresponsible and offensive occurrences keep happening in the fashion industry. H&M’s “coolest monkey in the jungle” hoodie and Prada’s monkey figurines last year are also examples of the kind of tone-deafness major brands keep finding themselves under fire for.

That fire, though has brought these brands a lot of press and to some people all press is good press. There’s a running theory on social media that brands are only pretending to be ignorant in order to create controversy and garner attention. This creates a dilemma, do we ignore these instances and not reward brands with the influxes in views that go along with a scandal or continue to call them out?

To me, the answer will always be call them out. Unacceptable is unacceptable and we can’t accept it because we think we know the motive. Ignoring racist imagery would be encouraging it. If we ignore black face from Balmain it’s almost guaranteed that we’ll see it elsewhere soon.

The reality is that the closing show of Couture Week, or any fashion show, is just too big of a platform to display ignorance. Brands have a responsibility to understand the images they’re putting into the world. Doing the necessary research (and thinking) is not too much ask.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

Letters (Number One)

The second half of 2018 was hard. I mean really hard. I went through a lot mentally and emotionally that I haven’t discussed with anyone yet and I don’t know when I’ll be ready to. What I will say, though is that this rough patch left me uninspired and unmotivated, which is why BTZ has been on hiatus and for that, I apologize.

However, today is a special day because today marks three years since I first hit publish on this site. Crazy right? So I scoured all of my favorite publications and social media pages to find the appropriate subject for today’s post, but I came up empty-handed. As usual, there’s currently plenty happening in the fashion world that I could’ve picked from (Moschino’s codename for Black customers, the influencer craze, how ridiculously hard it is to find an internship, etc.), but none of that felt right.

Instead, I’ve decided to introduce a new series, Letters. Like a letter from an editor in a newspaper or magazine, Letters is a chance for me to just talk to you. There will be no soapbox speeches on the morality, or lack thereof, of the industry or trend critiques/analysis in this series, but just updates and words from one friend to another.

As far as updates go, I’m excited to share with you guys that I’ll be beginning Teen Vogue and Parsons’ Fashion Industry Essentials online program soon. For those who have never heard of the program, it’s a year-long certificate program made up of five courses which teach different aspects of the fashion industry. This is something I really just stumbled upon and didn’t even know about a month ago, but I’m so excited to begin the journey because up until this point, my fashion education has been informal.

Being accepted into this program has relit a spark in me that I hadn’t realized (or maybe fully accepted) had gone out. Working in a creative capacity, whether that be as writer, designer or anything else is draining. Your work is always personal, which is a blessing at some times and a curse at others. The blessing is the passion and general enjoyment in the work. The curse is the inevitable comparisons and lack of inspiration that make you question not only your work, but yourself. That’s part of what I dealt with last year and in all honesty, it kicked my ass.

What I’ve learned, though is that work is just that– work. No matter how passionate I am, it can’t be my life because that will always lead to unhappiness and the yearning to do more. I chose to share this because hopefully it can help someone else, and if not, at least it felt good it get it out.

 

Be the zeitgeist,

Chantè

Culture Changes and We’re Just Going to Have to Accept It

Things are getting weird. Michael Kors purchased Versace for $2.3 billion and the hip-hop scene is becoming unrecognizable. Other than being odd, those two things are seemingly unrelated, but in actuality, they’re both indicators of the same occurrence: a shift in culture.

Every generation has them. It’s the time in which an era’s trends are defined and in most cases, they come with some opposition. Change, especially in the things we hold dear such as music and family fashion business, is hard to accept, but not accepting it problematic. The spirit of the times, the zeitgeist, will persist, even if you disagree.

It’s also worth noting that those changes are often less dramatic than we realize, but the fear of the loss of tradition can cloud judgment even when in reality, it’s not that bad.

Concerns that Michael Kors’ acquisition will ruin the brand are valid only when you don’t consider the facts. Firstly, Versace was bought by Michael Kors Holdings, which will soon be changing their name to Capri Holdings, not the MK brand. Secondly, Donatella isn’t going anywhere. She will remain creative director as well as become a shareholder in Capri Holdings and according to her, Versace will remain a luxury brand.

What is concerning, though, is Kors’ plans to increases Versace’s revenue by adding more stores. Exclusivity is an important element of luxury. But this is still only a minor issue as going from 200 storefronts to 300 is hardly the nose dive from caviar to McDonald’s that Twitter is pretending it is.

Hip-hop is a different story. Accepting that shift is understandably harder because, for now at least, it’s more evident. The vague and divisive term “mumble rap” has become a bane for hip-hop heads, icons such as Kanye aren’t who they used to be and rappers have lost their sociopolitical voice.

It’s clear that the genre has changed into something very different and arguably more careless. However, that change can also be viewed as growth. Maybe mumble is just a subgenre of hip-hop– maybe it’s not. Maybe this really is a completely different phase in hip-hop’s evaluation.

Either way, ignoring (or fighting) it is probably a bad idea. At some point, being a purist makes your viewpoint obsolete if you’re completely unwilling to accept change. Yes, we’d all love for monumental names like “Versace” to maintain their grandeur and yes, we’d all love for hip-hop to always sound the way it did that summer we fell in love with it, but those things could only happen in a perfect world.

In the real world, things change and from the standpoint of a cultural critic, those changes are worth embracing and exploring. Finding the balance between appreciating how things were and appreciating how things are is just something we’re going to have to learn to do or soon we’ll turn into our parents, regularly reminding anyone following what’s popular that “things just aren’t how they used to be,” and honestly, no wants to hear that.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

Melania Trump Really Doesn’t Care

The big story about Melania Trump for Thursday, June 21 was supposed to be about her visiting immigrant children in Texas. Instead, it ended up being about her wardrobe. The ever-watched First Lady chose to wear a ZARA jacket with the words “I REALLY DON’T CARE. DO U?” printed on the back. This was bizarre, to say the least.

While Melania is often depicted as somewhat ditzy and not fully aware of what’s going on, I find it hard to believe that the impact of wearing such a jacket was truly lost on her. The Trump era has been and remains to be a tense one, with many minorities and lower class individuals voicing their feelings that the president simply doesn’t care about them. Therefore, Melania’s wardrobe choice comes off as confusing and somewhat taunting. It seems as if she’s making light of citizen’s grievances, which honestly wouldn’t be surprising considering the behavior of her husband.

However, he claims that the message on the jacket was aimed at the media rather than individuals feeling isolated by the Trumps. “[the message] written on the back of Melania’s jacket, refers to the Fake News Media. Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares,” tweeted the president.

This doesn’t coincide with the statement given by Stephanie Grisham, Melania’s spokeswoman, though. Grisham responded to questions about the jacket, “It’s a jacket. There was no hidden message. After today’s important visit to Texas, I hope this isn’t what the media is going to choose to focus on.”

While I agree that there certainly was no hidden message behind the jacket, being that it was clearly and boldly printed on the back, I can’t accept the idea that Melania’s team didn’t intend for this to be a story. The First Lady doesn’t simply wear a jacket saying she doesn’t care and expect it not to be a big deal.

This fashion statement, while odd, is exactly the kind of non-traditional and arguably disrespectful thing we’ve come to expect from the president, but not so much the first lady. Early on in Trump’s presidency, there was much speculation about whether or not Melania fully understood or agreed with her husband’s policies and leadership style. I think she answered that question today. She doesn’t care.

Be the Zeitgeist.

Why Are Black Women Cutting Their Hair?

My hair journey has been a long one. Like most every other little Black girl, I grew up with poofy braids and twists done by my mother. On the rare occasion that I did wear my hair straight or in his naturally curly state, I would always receive comments reminding me that I had “good hair,” a term that I now know is problematic but used to swell me with pride as a child. In any case, I can now see the ways in which that shaped my hair journey.

At about twelve I convinced my mother to let me get my first relaxer so that I could wear my hair straight, just as I had seen most of the Black women in my life wear theirs. However, my hair quickly became damaged, so I grudgingly went natural, but I maintained a blowout most of the time. Eventually, though, I grew to love my afro and it became a major part of my self-identity. I gave up blowouts because I thought this was a good thing until I realized that I found all of my beauty in my hair. This, and damage caused by my mismanagement when I first began caring for my own hair prompted me to cut it all off.

This was something I never thought I would do because my hair had always been so important to me, but even though I admittedly hated it at first, I grew to love my lack of hair. While this remains true, I eventually grew bored and decided to start wearing wigs. My wigs give me an opportunity to try anything which is something I love, but now I never know how to answer people ask what I’m “doing” with my hair. The truth is, I’m not sure what’s next.

So, I’ve decided that the best way to determine whether I should keep my hair short and continue to alternate between my practically bald head and wigs or grow my hair back is to explore why I and other Black women cut their hair in the first place.

Despite the numerous protests of my father, this trend has garnered much popularity. Young Black women across the country, but especially at Historically Black Colleges, have decided to trade in their bonnets for du-rags. This is an interesting phenomenon when you consider how important hair is to the perception of femininity.

Grace Jones, an obvious style icon, was one of the early pioneers of Black women wearing their hair in masculine cuts as it fit her persona, which was not at all traditionally feminine.

During an appearance on Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee, Jones said that cutting her hair was a “sacred thing.” She went on, “It’s something that one really never does, and so when you do it, it’s so–I feel like a nun.”

While not everyone is crafting an image like Jones, many other Black women also note cutting their hair as a significant experience or life change.

Rebecca Johnson, a friend of mine and a proud baldie, says “I cut my hair because at the time I was getting rid of things that I felt weighed me down. My hair took up too much space in my mind and in my life, so I got rid of it.”

However, the decision isn’t that serious for everyone. Olivia Miles, another friend of mine and proud balide, says “I cut my hair initially because when I was 16 I shaved off a portion of my hair on the right side of my head and when I got to Howard I wanted to cut it all off so it could grow back evenly, but I ended up falling in love with the bald look.”

My personal conclusion is that everyone cuts their hair for different reasons and it was a bit naive of me to think I could condense everyone’s experience into one. Where does that leave me as far as what’s next for my hair? I’m still not sure, but what I do know is that cutting my hair has taught me much more about myself than I ever expected and because of that my emotional connection to my hair has evolved immensely.

Be the zeitgeist.

 

Angela Davis, Prada and the Romanticization of the Revolutionary

Prada is selling $500 t-shirts and $1700 coats with Angela Davis’ likeness on them. That sentence is ridiculous for various reasons, so just let it sink in for a little bit.

According to the description of the t-shirt provided on Prada’s website, the design is meant to be a continuation of  Miuccia Prada’s “feminist” sentiment for Spring/Summer 2018. Clearly, Prada’s co-chief executive officer and lead creative designer has a different understanding of feminism than I do. Ironically though, the release of these pieces is exactly what I would expect from a “feminist.”

Feminism (more blatantly white feminism), has been riddled with insensitivity towards women of color and queer women since its inception. This is why Alice Walker invented the term “womanist” and why Angela Davis herself identifies as a “black feminist,” to offer a more inclusive option.

Like many other feminist acts, Prada’s t-shirt and jacket ignorantly miss the mark for the sake of being cute. Yes, wearing a shirt displaying an image of Angela Davis saying “Right on” would be a fashionable way to state your political stance, but it also just doesn’t make much sense.

The obvious issue is that Davis’ adult life has been mainly dedicated to Black liberation, so a white-owned company profiting from her aesthetic is odd, to say the least. It’s also worth mentioning that when you consider the price of the t-shirt and the fact that Black people are historically less affluent for various reasons, you can easily come to the conclusion that Black people likely won’t even be the ones purchasing this shirt.

The second and probably more overlookable issue is that Davis has long been noted for her communist sentiments. To sell a $1700 jacket celebrating an icon whose views call for the dismantlement of capitalism is the definition of irony.

However, I’m sure that those issues were never even considered during the production of Prada’s two latest buzzworthy pieces, and if they were they were apparently decided to be not that serious. What was seemingly considered, though, was the current trendiness of activism.

It seems as if being a revolutionary is the new cool thing. Everyone wants to march, everyone wants to protest and everyone has faced some form of oppression that they simply must fight. As someone who advocates for civic engagement, I should find this inspiring, but I can’t because I know that in far too many cases it’s not genuine.

Somewhere along the way being mistreated and having to work for your liberation became beautiful and people began to romanticize the idea of being a revolutionary. Angela Davis and her peers have become the icons of people who don’t know, and probably don’t care to know, how difficult and dangerous their work was.

Truly pushing for change requires a level of commitment that anyone who would wear Prada’s Angela Davis t-shirt or jacket probably just doesn’t have. There’s no problem in looking up to a woman as resilient and intelligent as Davis, but one should do so holistically. You can’t aspire towards the triumph if you’re not willing to go through the struggle.

 

Be the zeitgeist.