Milan Fashion Week, which opened on Wednesday, is showcasing collections by perhaps its most ethnically diverse lineup of designers, including the debut of new creative directors Salvatore Ferragamo and Bali and the return of Haitian-Italian designer Stella Jean after a two-year hiatus. is included.
But Jean and other industry insiders behind the campaign to open up the Italian fashion world to talent from minority backgrounds say true inclusivity is elusive.
Jean, who made her debut in Milan in 2013, on the heels of the Black Lives Matter protests, pledged not to return to Milan Fashion Week as long as she remains the only black designer to be represented. This week, she won’t be.
Maximilian Davis, a 27-year-old British fashion designer with Afro-Caribbean roots, is making his debut as the creative director of Salvatore Ferragamo. Filipino American designer Ruigi Villasenor is bringing Bali back on the runway for the first time in 20 years. Tokyo Gems, founded by British-Nigerian designer Inye Tokyo James, is offering a women’s-only collection.
Jean said the real change that persuaded her to return to the Milan runway was the work of the We Are Made in Italy campaign, which she co-founded in 2020 with Milan-based African American designer Edward Buchanan and Afro Fashion Week Milano founder Michelle Ngonmo. was launched.
Jean Buchanan and five new We Are Made in Italy designers, including a Vietnamese apparel designer, an Italian-Indian accessory designer and an African American bag designer. This is the third WAMI group to present its collections in Milan.
“We’re feeling ourselves,” Jean told the Associated Press. “We invited all these youths. We made a place. profit has been made.”
Among the successes of the 2-year-old campaign: Trussardi and Vogue Italia have both used WAMI’s database of fashion professionals of color who are based in Italy, although the listing is not planned as industry-wide as the founders did. Was expected. One of the first WAMI class designers, Gisele Claudia Ntsama, worked in the design office in Valentino.
Giorgio Armani, who helped launch Stella Jean in 2013, worked with textiles for the new WAMI capsule collection on display here. Conde Nast and the European fashion magazine NSS are helping to fund their production. The three WAMI founders are covering the rest out of their own pockets as the Fashion Council offered a venue for the show but limited funding compared to last season.
Nganmo said Italian fashion houses often confuse diversity – such as showing black models – with true inclusivity, which would involve employing professionals in the creative process.
“I think they don’t understand diversity at all. They confuse diversity with inclusion,” she said.
Buchanan said he holds to his optimism, but acknowledged that the post-pandemic market is difficult because stores are not investing in collections by new designers.
“We were going into that it was going to be a slow move,” Buchanan said. “Working with designers, we have to be transparent about what’s next for them. … They’re not going to be Gianni Versace tomorrow.”
Jean noted that the new designers for the major fashion brands did not come through the Italian system but from abroad. Despite progress, she and her colleagues still see some resistance to hiring people of color in creative roles and to the idea that “Made in Italy” might include domestic Black talent.
“It’s more glamorous to be someone from outside,” he said.
Jeanne said she is also looking forward to an invitation to form a multicultural board within the structure of the Italian Fashion Council. She said she feels the diversity project’s initial industry embrace has cooled.
“None of us believed in the totality of the promises. We are now entering an area that we know very well, when people feel free and comfortable not to deliver on promises. It’s obvious,'” Jean said.
As for her future: “I’m at a crossroads,” said the designer. “My traveling companions are outside the door I was allowed to enter. For some time, being alone in the room, you feel special. But when you see that many of the people who are still out the door are better than you, you realize you weren’t special. You were so lucky.”