Let’s be completely honest, women of color have been shunned from the world of fashion for as long as we can remember. Whether it was the lack of clothing that fit around our signature brickhouse bodies or the disturbing lack of representation on the runway and in advertisements, it was openly clear that women of color were only invited to be window watchers to the invite-only. The doors of fashion shows, systematically shut against us... until now.
For years, Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan has been winning prestigious awards including the Pulitzer Prize for her timeless pieces about the lack of diversity in the fashion industry, and it looks as though her work (and those before her) is beginning to pay off as New York Fashion Week was forced to rethink and rebuild its structure.
Before the front rows were filled with Kardashians, bloggers and subsequent glitterati, New York Fashion Week was a place for fashion designers, stylists, buyers and press to determine what would be important in fashion for the upcoming season.
If you follow fashion, you know that NYFW was said to be slowly declining in its popularity by fashion professionals due to the many “peacocks”, also known as bloggers and style influencers that were flocking to the shows, more specifically, to the cameras in masses as they flaunted their latest fashions and posed for the photographers.
Suddenly these influencers, often men and women of color, never had a voice until they painstakingly carved out a space for themselves and interestingly the backlash seemed like the industry was trying to keep them shut out as NYFW aimed to be more exclusive than ever.
And it worked. The tickets are hard to come by. Security is tight. You might get your photo snapped, but you're definitely not getting in. And it's complicated because it's a toxic relationship. To stay relevant, both parties need each other but that doesn't stop the old school guard from wanting to, well, guard. Unsuccessful attempts in the recent seasons to cut-out Black influencers, Fashion Week has finally got the push, maybe shove, needed to open the doors and offer some much needed diversity in just who gets a seat at the proverbial table, better known as the illustrious front row.
It has been many tireless years for women (and men) who have been preaching this message. Fashion activist, Bethann Hardison, for example, has worked hard to demonstrate that black women have a major influence on fashion, and in 2017 the world of glitz and glamour has finally realized the power of black representation. Of course, that's not the only reason. Fashion reflects culture first and foremost and vise versa. They inform one another. In such a hotbed time of political unrest, unease and general WTFness, people are really unwilling to be silenced. This fashion week, I really took notice.
If you’ve been anywhere on the Internet since last Wednesday, you know that #BlackGirlMagic is lighting up NYC. Black women are not only taking over your social media with melanin greatness but now they are taking over the fashion and beauty industry with no limitation!
Somewhat related, is the beauty industry, where women of color has constantly had to fight large makeup brands to get them to acknowledge that Black beauty comes in more shades than light and dark brown. Although, there have been some major changes in the way brown beauty is blended, it would seem that black women have given up on waiting for representation.
Except we haven't. Cue Rihanna's shut down of Times Square to launch FentyBeauty on the second day of New York Fashion Week. The Bajan bad gal, proved as she walked around the completely packed NY landmark filled with anxious fans, that black beauty matters. In all of her darker shades, the products are already sold out.
The press frenzy that dogs Rihanna anytime she takes a breath is not small, so literally all eyes were on her. The mainstream glossies took notice. Vogue, Elle, Glamour, etc. all were clamoring for a piece of her. And that was just the beginning. Not content to stop her empire at beauty, Rihanna turned her attention to her role as creative director and designer for Puma. Rihanna will never have to prove her iconic status in the fashion industry. She has major influence and in fact, was acknowledged for it with an award earlier this year from Parson's New School of Design.
Prematurely shutting down NYFW, Rihanna made headlines with the FentyxPuma Fashion Show on Sunday evening featuring fashion-forward '80s inspired active gear, a reversed lineup of models (we only counted 2 Caucasian models), and live motocross action. There are actually three more days left of fashion week but we are going to go ahead and say everyone can go home now.
While Rihanna practically ended Fashion Week before it even climaxed with two major moves in the space, our BET Awards host and just favorite person ever, Leslie Jones was busy proving exactly why Black women are needed on the front rows of Fashion Week.
As many celebrities and writers sat snobbishly on the sidelines of the runways snapping selfies, the Saturday Night Live comedian fell in love with the fashion of Christian Siriano at his show and let everyone know it. Completely unashamed to let it be known that she was swooning over the looks, the 50-year-old comedian finger snapped her approval, and gave so much enthusiasm that she made stuffy onlookers smile and join in the excitement. What followed? Well the press of course. All those aforementioned mainstream titles were lit up with Leslie Jones headlines on Saturday afternoon, praising her. They probably don't even remember how boring it was before Leslie came in, honestly.
As Leslie breathed life into the bleachers at the shows, that night, Miss Teyana Taylor was killin’ them on the runways! First, slaying the Pat McGrath Mothership Ball with a dynamic vogue, while wearing a wig so secure you would think it was attached by the GAWDS, Teyana’s debut her skills as a performer earning her 10’s across the board.
Not ready to end the week there, the 26-year-old bombshell showed off major slay when strutting down the runway as she closed GCDS's New York Fashion Week presentation.
Just in case anyone had doubts that she could do it again, the sexy mother of one turned up the Philipp Plein show with a erotic dance-style model walk servin’ nothing but bawdy as she blessed us with her moves to Percocet by Future.
Only #BlackGirlMagic can break the internet with a flick of the wrist and a click of stilettos. Her own personal instagram is on fire with the accolades from titles that have otherwise put Black women in very specific boxes, i.e. you're either Beyonce, or you're not.
And then of course, the most unexpected fashion darling of them all, Cardi B, took to the stage at Alexander Wang's after-party, WangFest, drowned out by the crowd who was screaming her hit, "Bodak Yellow," louder than her.
You already know that Cardi B is all about “making money moves,” but as she attended New York Fashion Week, it was clear that making connections with her fans was also important. While other celebrities run through the Manhattan streets in stilettos aiming to look important without looking thirsty in their overly-dramatic styles, Cardi B was all about making her fans feel loved and spent much of her time in-between shows vibin' with the fans. After all, she is a regular degular girl.
This goes to prove that although often overlooked, #BlackGirlMagic is not only real, necessary and important, but it is also very powerful. Without our ladies, what a terrible, boring, no good very bad spectacle it would have been. People stopped coming to fashion week for the clothes a long time ago. Now they come to be entertained and the Black girls know how to steal a show.
By far, this has been the most fashionable, most entertaining, and most diverse New York Fashion Week we’ve seen in years, and if it continues in this direction, it will be the necessary jolt of energy NYFW needed to dig itself out of the downhill melancholy runway experience into one of appreciation, acceptance and style.
(Photos from left: Paul Morigi/WireImage, Albert Urso/Getty Images For NYFW: The Shows, Billy Farrell/BFA/REX/Shutterstock)