A few months ago, amidst international Black Lives Matter protests, as many Italian fashion brands and industry insiders ticked the boxes of posting black squares on their Instagram in superficial solidarity with the movement, Afro-Italian fashion designer Stella Jean posed the question, do Black lives matter in Italian fashion?
The question was not new or a revelation of any kind that occurred to her but was rather a question being asked for the umpteenth time within the Italian fashion landscape about the exclusion of and disregard for Black talent and Black culture.
The approach however was somewhat different — herself, being the only Black designer on the official Milan Fashion Week calendar drew the query directly with the Italian fashion association Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI), as she sent out an open letter to their president Carlo Capasa as well as 14 members of the board which include executives from Prada, D&G, Gucci, etc. The open letter, co-signed by American Milan-based designer Edward Buchanan of Sansovino 6, was a proposal for a constructive discussion of how to better support Black designers in the city as well as the creation & publication of a database of Italian fashion companies and their percentages of Black employees.
Initially, Jean’s letter was met with resistance and defensiveness from the Italian association. In a NY Times article, she clarified by saying “It’s not a protest, I’m not protesting. It’s a proposal.” However, the CNMI’s president Carlo Capasa, seems to have missed the point by distastefully mistaking Stella, asking more support for Black creatives in Italy, with her asking for more support for herself. “I can say we supported her brand in an extraordinary way in comparison to our standard support to emerging brands. We’ve granted you various gratitudes and preferential treatment over the last few years, I don’t understand why you write as if none of this ever happened,” he commented.
Following what appeared to be a futile response, the designer then decided to take a stance by removing herself from the official September Milan Fashion Week calendar, “I don’t want to be the only one anymore, but it’s not about boycotting. It’s about asking for change, ” she explained.
Somewhere between then and now, hope peeked its nose as the Afro-Italian fashion designer managed to form a coalition with the CNMI for a new initiative called “We Are Made in Italy.” The project is aimed at highlighting the work of five Italian designers of color and their SS21 collection, under the mentorship of Stella Jean and Edward Buchanan, and will take shape in a digital form on September 27th. Despite his initial defensive response earlier this year, Capasa claimed that this project was something the CNMI were quick to embrace, “We were thrilled to be able to include this content, to offer an opportunity and be increasingly more inclusive,” he commented.
The designers who have been kept anonymous up to now were all discovered by Milan Afro Fashion Week founder Michelle Ngonmo, who has been working to push them to the forefront of the industry for years, in showing an alternate side of Italian fashion, “We want to debunk the idea that Made in Italy is all-white, and this project will reflect Italy’s multicultural reality, offering them visibility. It’s a human and social signal and it’s a historical step. It will help to show that Italy has a new face and that it does not want to be racist. These designers’ motto is: We are made in Italy and made in Italy is made of us,” Stella commented in an article with WWD.
The We Are Made in Italy initiative is one of the very important steps in the creation of a more inclusive industry, a cause which many, including All the Pretty Birds, have been championing for the past few seasons. The showcase will take place virtually on September 27th during Milan Fashion Week 2020, and we will surely be tuning in to support.
Image by Federico Ciamei via The Guardian