Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, The Biggest Story That Shouldn’t Be a Big Story

It was announced on Monday, March 26 that Virgil Abloh has been named Men’s Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton. Unsurprisingly, the announcement was met with the usual excitement that comes with such news. Virgil Abloh, a Black man from Chicago, has made history by becoming the first ever Black man to hold his new position, that’s a big deal.

But why? Why is it that his success is viewed as such an anomaly that it had to be the biggest news of the day, and likely the week? It’s not as if Abloh isn’t deserving. Whether you’re a fan of his work or not, you have to admit that for over a year now his has been one of the most relevant names in fashion.

Even the simple fact that he’s a Black man should be seen as an advantage rather than a disadvantage when it comes to a career in fashion. However, despite all logic, we’ve convinced ourselves that the fashion industry isn’t a place for Black men to thrive. When you really think about it though, we’ve seen enough examples of successful Black men in fashion to have dispelled that myth long ago.

Willi Smith, Patrick Kelly, Dapper Dan, Virgil Abloh and even Kanye West (among others, of course) have shown that the fashion industry is, in fact, a place for Black men. It’s also worth noting that all of the Project Runway Allstars Season 6 finalists (Anthony Williams, Fabio Costa, Ken Laurence and Stanley Hudson) are Black/Brown men. Despite all of this, there’s still a lack of Black men in fashion.

“I believe there aren’t many Black males in the fashion industry because of the stigma that comes with being in the industry. We don’t allow ourselves to venture outside of the norm so we never do anything but normal shit. There also wasn’t any representation in the fashion industry for the longest times, and that’s by design,” says Javier Cousteau of the Cousteau House of Design.

The argument that the lack of Black men in fashion, and the subsequent lack of faith in Black men that are is due societal norms is one with some merit. Black men often do find themselves in boxes, surrounded by expectations of what they should and should not do. While that entire concept is ridiculous, fashion being in the “should not” category is particularly egregious.

There have been countless proclamations that Black people are the most stylish people in the world, and you’re delusional if you’re still not ready to admit that Black/Brown women living in the ghetto are the source of many fashion trends, yet there still seems to be a belief that there’s no for Black men in the industry.

So at this point, you have to ask yourself why. You have to wonder why we’re still shocked that Black men can do great work in fashion. You have to question why Virgil Abloh’s new position at Louis Vuitton is more noteworthy than any other fashion story of the day. Not because he doesn’t deserve the honor, but because he does.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

The Signifgance of “Black Panther” Fashions, Both on and off Screen

As expected because it was so highly anticipated, Marvel’s “Black Panther” has created a lot of conversation since its release on February 16. One of the biggest conversations has surrounded the movie’s fashion. Costume designer, Ruth E. Carter, drew inspiration from various African cultures while maintaining the futuristic integrity of Wakanda to create the mainly green, red and black costumes.

However, the on-screen fashions were not the only eye-catching looks I noticed when I saw the movie on opening night. The audience seemed to have come to a consensus that the proper attire was either all black or traditional African fabrics. Of course, I wore my usual all black, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have “Black Panther” in mind that morning while getting dressed.

As someone who cares so deeply about adornment, it was heartwarming to see such adamantly pro-black looks both in the theatre with me as well as all over the country via Twitter. It was clear that the movie had instilled a sense of pride. Such pride is interesting considering the fact that much of the African-American population lacks knowledge of our origins. This was evident in the chosen movie-going attire. Pieces from various African cultures were mixed, most likely ignorantly but not maliciously.

This, however, is not really a negative in my opinion. It’s no secret that Black people were stripped of their culture and that any attempts to preserve practices for their prosperity were punishable during enslavement. Because of this, Black people not only in America, but across the diaspora have resorted to combining various West African cultures.

This is what I would consider self-determination. As a Howard student, I’ve had countless class discussions and written numerous papers about how enslaved people drew what they could from home while creating their own traditions in order to maintain their identities. Self-determination served as a defense mechanism against oppression.

This is exactly what we’ve seen in the theatres over the past week. Being Black in America can be exhausting, but “Black Panther” has inspired pride in African-American people. The moment may or may not be fleeting, but it’s still beautiful. And yes, as an actual Marvel fan, I know that “Black Panther” is not a “race movie,” but that does not change the fact that it was released in a volatile time and has sparked a cultural movement. Such an impact, intentional or not, is noteworthy.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

A Conversation with Wild ‘n Out’s Costume Designer, Satthra San

Last weekend I had the amazing opportunity to spend time backstage at Wild ‘n Out in Brooklyn, New York to see how things work behind the scenes. During my time on set, I sat in on filmings of the show and hung out with cast members, which was somewhat surreal being that I’ve been watching Wild ‘n Out since I was too young to be watching it.

However, what was most exciting is that I got a chance to interview the show’s costume designer, Satthra San. San is the woman behind the eclectic, yet cohesive red and black (and recently gold and platinum) fashions that have become such a huge part of the show. Here’s a closer look at just what that job entails:

Chantè: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, I just have a few questions. Firstly, how did you get to this position in your career?

Satthra: No problem! Do you want the long story or the short story?

C: Either one is fine.

S: Basically, I moved to New York six and a half years ago and started doing sales in fashion. I have a Bachelor’s in design, and I’ve been sewing since I was like thirteen so I actually had a lot of opportunities back home, but I really wanted to be in New York, so I literally left everything. I left a comfortable life and started from scratch here. I didn’t know anyone, I met my roommate online and I found my apartment the weekend I graduated. When I got here I started doing sales in a showroom as an intern and I was there for a year. I met a bunch of stylists. One, in particular, I kept in contact with and a year later I hit her up and she had to fire her assistant that same weekend and she lived down the street from me. I was everything that she needed at that time and she was everything that I needed at that time, so it just kind of fell into place. She did a lot of styling for Atlantic artists such as Wale, B.O.B. and Joe Budden, so that’s how I got my start in the styling world. Her best friend was actually working Wild ‘N Out at the time, this was season six. At the same time, my former boss was moving to London, so I worked my ass off on season 6 and my her best friend adopted me for the next four seasons. Then I graduated to be lead for the past two seasons, seasons ten and eleven. And now, here I am.

C: And now here we are! That’s great. So now that you’ve been in this position for a couple of seasons, what’s your favorite part of the job?

S: Well since I have a design background, all of these jerseys are kind of sort of my visions. Our people, New Jersey Sets, who are based out in California, I give them my inspiration and the things I’m looking for for the season and they come back to me with designs and I’ll say “add a hood” or “add this color panel.” We’ve actually been a couple seasons going trying to achieve these sequin jerseys, so getting to make stuff like that happen is probably my favorite part.

C: That actually flows right into my next question, which is how do the fashions on the show come about? I know the cast all have their different styles, so do they come to you and say “this is what I want” or do you just tell them that’s what they’re going to wear?

S: It’s definitely a collaboration. There are some guys that sort of know exactly what they want and they’ve been on the show for so many years that they just trust us at this point. They just come and kind of look through the jersey racks and anything on these racks they kind of customize however they want. But then there are other cast members, the new ones, that are super excited and just want to put everything together.

C: So how is the work environment? Is it chaotic? It is chill?

S: You know what’s crazy? It all starts at the top. For me, I wanted to build an organized foundation. I wanted it to be so that everyone coming in to work for me knows the lay of the land and is multi-talented. You can’t just be able to do one thing here. You’ve got to do multiple things. For me, I’m on the [sewing] machine, I handle the vinyl cutter, I’ll heat press the names, I’ll make designs on the computer along with putting the clothes onto people.

C: So that again kind of goes into my next question: How much of your personal style goes into the clothes that we see on the show?

S: All of it. But actually, a lot of the things I wouldn’t pick out personally, but I would pick out for a certain person. Like Karlous likes crazy pants so we’ve gotten a lot of the G-Star and Pharell collaboration jeans for him. So like, for the OG cast members I have pieces I specifically hand pick for them, and there are other fillers that I kind of just get just in case someone might want to try it, but most importantly it all just needs to look good on stage and on camera.

C: Okay, final question: Do you also design Nick’s turbans?

S: Unfortunately I do not. Nick has his own team that I’d be happy to connect you with if need be.

C: Thank you! And thank you again for your time.

S: No problem!

 

Be the zeitgeist.

What Classifies as an Award Show Fashion Statement?

Unsurprisingly, award shows have always been riddled with celebrity fashion statements. Nights such as The Grammys where all the stars (and cameras) gather are without a doubt a great time to speak up. However, it is also true that TV & Film award shows tend to have more subtle protests, while music award shows are more theatrical.

The point is that they all seem to get political in one way or another.  Some of the most notable recent award show fashion statements include Pharell dressing his backup dancers in hoodies to honor Trayvon Martin at the 2015 Grammys, various stars wearing blue ribbons to the 2017 Oscars to signify support of the ACLU and, of course, Joy Villa in her controversial “Make America Great Again” gown at last year’s Grammys.

This year, many celebrities elected to wear black to the Golden Globes to stand in solidarity with victims of sexual assault. The lack of color on the red carpet was definitely noticeable, but the problem is that it wasn’t really that groundbreaking. Many critiqued the protest by noting that black gowns at an award show are hardly a statement.

On the other hand, many artists at this year’s Grammys adorned white roses to support the cause. This protest, while still simple, seemed to say a little more. The white roses were obviously meant to symbolize something and weren’t easily confused with a regular Grammy accessory.

This difference is huge because a protest is hardly a protest if it doesn’t require much diverting from the status quo. Fashion statements, just like any other protest can’t afford to be subtle if they truly aim to make a difference. While TV & film award shows such as the Golden Globes don’t offer as many opportunities for performance art protests as music award shows do, they do offer just as much public attention, and therefore should be just as bold when it comes to their political fashion statements.

Be the zeitgeist.

 

 

H&M Has Appointed a Diversity Leader, But I’m Not Impressed

Last week H&M became yet another brand to find itself in a PR disaster caused by racial insensitivity. While having a Black boy model a hoodie that reads “Coolest money in the jungle,” was probably not meant to be malicious, it was definitely tone deaf. It showed a complete lack of knowledge and/or understanding of the Black point of view.

Because of this, the Swedish brand announced on Tuesday via Facebook that they would be appointing a diversity leader. This is interesting to me because I’ve seen many people say on social media that incidents such as the monkey hoodie highlight why people of color should have a voice in the conversation when companies make decisions. I’m sure that H&M saw these sentiments as well and this is their attempt at giving the people what they want.

However, I’m not sure that’s enough. While I’ll always be an advocate for people of color having a seat at the table, at this point that shouldn’t be necessary to make better decisions. Being tone deaf stems from ignorance, but there is really no excuse for this kind of ignorance.

We live in an extremely social world in which brands have the ability to truly get to know their consumers and how we think. Moreover, we’re currently in a period in which race/racism is an extremely sensitive topic. Simply paying attention would have alerted H&M that putting a little Black boy in anything that said “monkey” probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

Similarly, simply paying attention (and actually caring) would’ve prevented the makeup brand Tarte from only creating three shades that could possibly work for women of color when they formulated their new Shape Tape Foundation. While reviewing the product, Alissa Ashley stated that we shouldn’t have to beg for inclusion anymore which led to me adopting the same attitude towards all offensive acts from brands.

We should no longer have to ask a brand to consider our point of view after they do something wrong because not initially considering our point of view is a choice. It’s a choice to be ignorant and/or lazy. H&M appointing a diversity leader to prove that its “commitment to addressing diversity and inclusion is genuine” would have felt much more “genuine” if it was done proactively rather than reactively.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

State of the Zeitgeist

2017 was interesting, to say the least. All things considered, I’d say that the one word that sums up this year would have to be “hectic.” From culture to historical events, there was simply a lot going on. As we reexamine the past twelve months and promise ourselves to improve over the next twelve, we’ll have a lot to consider.

The fashion industry, particularly, had a year that merits some reflection. The push for diversity and cultural respect has never been stronger; however, the industry has proven to be completely unprepared for this. PR disasters surrounding appropriation and tokenism plagued 2017 as brands attempted to give consumers what they thought they wanted.

The editorial side of fashion also had a pretty unfortunate year. Most notably, the Terry Richardson scandal disrupted many collaborations. In addition, multiple bloggers were vocal about the discrete advertising and bias found in many magazines. What’s worst is that the disconnect between consumers and brands and the unethical journalism were simply icing on a cake of runway shows that many viewed as “boring.”

The hip-hop industry, on the other hand, had a year that was far from boring. Most of the many projects that came out this year found themselves on one end of the spectrum, complete trash or certified hit. The abundance of collaborations and mumble rap generated so much noise that it was easy to miss the lackluster work.

I must admit, though, I am disappointed with just how much lackluster work there was to miss. I, like many others, was hoping that the introduction of the Trump administration would inspire some brilliant music as well as fashion. Instead, all we got was a few powerful protests, but many more empty ones.

My hope is that going into 2018 we’ll find inspiration in both our 2017 failures and successes, creatively and socially. While New Year’s resolutions are a bit cliche, they do help us to be honest with ourselves and seek improvement. So my hope is that every creative and/or activist who comes across this dedicates themselves to contributing to the spirit of the times in a way that is no less than phenomenal in 2018.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

Unapologetic

I pride myself in my long coffin shaped nails. My colorful claws are a pretty constant conversation starter, and while I must admit that I enjoy the attention, that’s not why I started wearing them. When I first decided to wear long nails, it wasn’t because I relished the thought of white women calling me “fierce,” or my mother asking me when I planned on cutting them, or middle-aged Black women regularly grabbing my hands to get a better look. When I first started wearing long nails it was simply because I thought they were pretty.

However, they’ve surprisingly opened my eyes to a lot. While acrylic nails are nothing more than colorful extensions to my fingertips, they’ve garnered me even more creepy male gaze, an odd and somewhat uncomfortable kind of admiration from girls that I do not know and countless pieces of unsolicited advice from older women. All of which I’ve found to be rooted in stereotypes.

When people look at my nails they equate me to caricatures such as Joi from “Friday,” which is odd because I act nothing like the purposely over the top character. I know that in most cases the connection is accidental, but it’s still strange. Something as simple as my nails has labeled me as “obnoxious,” “ghetto” and most favorably “fierce.” And yes, those are actual comments I’ve received/heard.

Of course, those aren’t everyone’s reactions. When I’m on campus at Howard, I’m just another girl with long nails. It’s when I venture outside that I’m not quite sure to expect. They’re either “really pretty” or “a bit much” depending on the setting in which I find myself. This unexpected social aspect of having long nails has made me think a lot.

One person who crosses my mind often as I contemplate if my nails are even worth all the hassle is a teacher from my elementary school named Ms. Miller. She had nails even longer than the ones I wear today, and she talked with her hands a lot, so it was hard to miss them. I sometimes heard other teachers and even students whisper about Ms. Miller’s nails, and I’m sure she did too, but she always wore them with such confidence. As a little girl I didn’t think much of this, but now it means the world to me.

I know Ms. Miller probably received Joi comparisons of her own, and if she still has longs nails, she probably still does. However, I’ve found both Joi and Ms. Miller to be sources of inspiration. In both Joi’s over the top finger pointing and Ms. Miller’s quiet, unbothered demeanor was a sense of confidence that I can’t help but admire.

Because of them, I flaunt my long nails even harder after every disapproving comment. Just like cutting my hair or choosing to wear makeup every day, having long nails has taught me to be unapologetic. I never asked for anyone’s approval or opinion on these matters, and I never will.

 

Be the zeitgeist.