If you’ve visited New York City’s Soho in the past year then you know that sneakers have been “in” for awhile. However it’s only now, during the fall 2014 couture shows, that they’ve made it onto the elite runways.
Many saw Chanel and Dior’s sneakers as a turn to feminism since the clothes were no longer paired with painful and confining heels. The Cut took issue with this—specifically that a new trend could be deemed feminist. In their opinion, this just degrades feminism to the same level as all other fleeting fashion trends, such as the cropped top. The Cut makes an okay point—albeit a bit far-fetched one—but it seems the most logical answer here is that Karl Lagerfeld had no intention of making a feminist statement whatsoever. After all, the shoes were largely paired with corset-centered suits. And what do corsets suggest if not the suppression of the female race? No, I think Lagerfeld had no feminist agenda at all—not one this year, last year, or the year before that. But there’s something else going on here too that deserves our attention: a turn to streetwear.
The resurgence of sneakers didn’t begin on the runway—it began on the streets. It’s rooted in the revival of Supreme-inspired streetwear that we’ve all seen in the past year—a style that of course originated in urban communities. The need for at least some of these streetwear-inspired items to be worn by black models seems obvious, and yet it clearly wasn’t so obvious to Lagerfeld.
It seems contradictory to show sneakers on scarcely any black models, not to mention the 30 hours it apparently takes for each sneaker to be made. And yet sadly, it also comes as little surprise—top designers have always shown a knack for racism during fashion week. It’s only two weeks into the fall ’14 shows and this photo of Garage magazine’s editor-in-chief Dasha Zhukova perched atop a black woman fashioned into a chair has already appeared on the website Buro 24/7:
There’s a glaring effort to not be racist too, but as we’ve seen far too often, this effort has a tendency to do more harm than good. When attempts at quashing racist rumors are so conspicuous, it comes off as disingenuous.
It’s reminiscent of Lena Dunham’s response to racist accusations for not having a single black actor cast in her first season of Girls: “Let’s hastily put a black guy in the first scene of the next season!” was what she seemed to say. Last year, Rick Owens made an exaggerated attempt at integrating black women in his show too. The women were portrayed as stereotypically black—angry, burly, masculine—and the whole thing kind of blew up in his face. And this year, as The Cut points out, we’ve seen similar efforts. Walter Van Beirendonck adorned his models in headdresses that had “Stop Racism” inscribed on them and Umit Benan cast all black models for his show. And yet these “efforts” were ultimately all in vain too. Despite his forthright message, Van Beirendonck, it turns out, only hired four nonwhite models for the show. And Umit Benan’s purpose for his all-black casting seemed rooted more in artistic concerns than racial ones—the collection was “inexplicably Jackie Robinson-inspired,” wrote The Cut.
Finally, there’s the concern with Vogue Italia’s “Vogue Black” section. Vogue Italia’s editor Franca Sozzani responded to the criticism saying, among many other defenses, “These sections have been created on our website to raise public awareness on often neglected themes.” But in the process of “raising awareness” on these “neglected themes,” she sort of neglected them further. The fact of the matter is that she segregated whites from blacks in a separate-but-equal kind-of-way that’s rooted in blind racism.
The solution here—so simple, so easy—is just to hire black models. Don’t make a show of it, just integrate them the same way you integrate white models.
On The Daily Show this week, Larry Wilmore, their “senior black correspondent,” as Jon Stewart likes to call him, discussed a recent ad for Howard University. The ad strangely features one white student and no black students. Stewart, playing the devil’s advocate, made the case that perhaps they’re just trying to convey colorblindness. To which Wilmore pointed out a glaring truth: “There’s a difference between being colorblind and being plain blind.”