Poser for Mecca of fashion: Why so few black designers

AFP

The events seek to celebrate dozens of black designers who, the FIT says, are often under-recognised and under-represented.

The first First Lady Mary Lincoln chose a slave, Elizabeth Keckly, as her designer.

New York: As New York Fashion Week opens, a glaring near-absence stands out: why are there so few black models and designers at the pinnacle of the industry?

For that matter, is there such a thing as black fashion, and should black designers feel the weight and responsibility of their history and heritage?

A symposium held by the Fashion Institute of Technology this week and a major exhibit open until May have launched the debate on a more public scale. The events seek to celebrate dozens of black designers who, the FIT says, are often under-recognised and under-represented.

African American designers account for just one percent of those covered by VogueRunway.com, the main website for following fashion weeks around the world, said Ariele Elia, co-curator of the Black Fashion Designers exhibit at FIT. “Discrimination still occurs in the fashion industry, both with designers and models,” Elia said.

But many say they are tired of being seen as “black designers” and want to be considered designers — period. Some say they do not even think about race when it comes to thinking up beautiful, innovative clothing for men and women. “It’s a sad thing” that there are not more black designers at New York Fashion Week, which opens on Thursday, but it is even more surprising that there are so many men and few women, designer Carly Cushnie, of the Cushnie et Ochs fashion line, said.

“I am not sure what the real reason is for it,” said Cushnie, who hails from London and is of Jamaican heritage. She shot to fame when then first lady Michelle Obama wore one of her designs — a forest-green crepe dress— for a Christmas event in 2011.

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