Olivier Rousteing, Brandice Daniel and Victor Glemaud revisit Fashion’s racial reckoning

Less than two weeks before the second anniversary of George Floyd’s death, which led to a global reckoning on racism and policy violence, and on a smaller but nonetheless visible scale, a lack of diversity within the fashion industry, an impressive array of talent , including Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing, gathered at Parsons School of Design to learn about the calls for change being made by brands, and more.

The panel, titled “Fashion’s Diversity: Where It Stands, Where It Stalls, Where It’s Going,” was moderated by WWD Editor-in-Chief Tara Donaldson and also featured Brandice Daniel, CEO and founder of Harlem’s Fashion Row and Icon 360, and Victor Glemaud, creative director and founder of In the Blk. It started with a pulse check:

“Do you feel happy? Are you feeling tired?” Donaldson asked.

Glemaud replied first, “All of the above.”

It was clear that the black community has mixed feelings as we look back on the past two years. As Daniel noted, black women have been largely scrubbed from history for centuries. She quoted Ann Lowe, the couturier who made Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress and went largely unrecognized for her work after not getting an attribution from the former First Lady. “We must continue to share stories about incredible black people in fashion,” she told the predominantly black audience, who nodded in agreement and shouted affirmations like “yes” and “period!”

The panelists pointed out that progress has been made. “We’re all here today to fight and make the world a better place,” Rousteing added, before giving listeners his own story of growing up as the adopted baby of a French couple in Bordeaux and “the only black person at fashion shows” before running one of the biggest fashion houses. “I’ve fought every day in my career,” he said, adding, “the French like to talk about nothing.” Rousteing’s upbringing is the subject of a Netflix documentary, Wonder Boy; regarding the film, he later said, “Behind all this glamor is a human being who has experienced what he has been through.”

All panelists agreed on the need to put pressure on brands to renew the commitments they made in June 2020, when many posted black squares on their Instagram feeds. Aurora James’ Fifteen Percent Pledge and consultancies like 2BG (2 Black Girls), founded by former fashion editors Danielle Prescod and Chrissy Rutherford, continue to hold companies accountable for their representation goals. Daniel stressed the importance of quantifying commitments, as James did by asking companies to donate 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned brands to invest in the future. Glemaud underlined the need to create more employment opportunities for people of color.

So, in the wake of a racial reckoning, where are we?

†[George Floyd] allowed us to investigate and be honest about what happened to black people in the past, not just in fashion, but in history, and to control people,” Glemaud said. Rousteing added: “We need to make sure that tomorrow’s world is not a repetition of yesterday’s world.”

Let’s be sure.

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