We spend a lot of time around here facepalming when certain fashion brands make their disinterest in women of color utterly obvious. Like when Dolce & Gabbana paraded those terrible, retro-racist earrings and shoes down the Spring 2013 runway, or when it took Prada a smooth 20 years to finally insert a brown girl into its ad campaign.
But thankfully, there are other moments when the cool people in fashion get it so-oh-deliciously right. And for Givenchy, that moment is right now.
Riccardo Tisci, the creative director for Givenchy, has put the divine Erykah Badu and a host of other women of color front and center for the house’s Spring 2014 ad campaign. Badu, who’s usually seen with a larger-than-life afro, is stunning in a black-and-white photo where she’s rocking a cropped cut and a garment best described as a “tabard,” embellished with a stylized image of tribal mask, created by shimmering paillettes.
It is a gorgeous, arresting shot, with Badu’s piercing eyes demanding you to take notice of her modern regality. And the ad campaign is rounded out with a cast made up completely of models of color, including Maria Borges and Asia Chow. It’s the diversity we’ve been asking other designers to simply attempt, and Tisci pulls it off effortlessly.
Fashion icons like Iman, Bethann Hardison and Naomi Campbell have been vocal in calling out designers who seem incapable of casting non-homogenous shows, especially in this past year. But Riccardo Tisci is one designer who didn’t need the reminder. His runway shows for Givenchy have historically been among the more diverse at Fashion Week, and in recent years he’s been the go-to couturier for stars such as Beyonce, Rihanna and Alicia Keys.
What makes this particular campaign even better is the actual clothing. For his Spring 2014 show, Tisci started with draping inspired by early 20th century designer Alix Gres, and then infused silhouettes of Japanese kimonos and hues inspired by African and Indian textiles. It is a perfect, modern mash-up of ethnic influences without slipping into hokey imagery or blatant, inaccurate appropriation (I’m looking you, feathered headdresses at Chanel). And that celebration of cultures melds seamlessly with the diversity of the models chosen to showcase it.
How is it that Riccardo Tisci gets it so right and other designers get it so wrong? Part of it is personal instinct. Tisci told Style.com that he grew up and was educated in a culture where folks were “considered all the same.” Tisci embraces the diversity of the world around him, and he speaks of Badu’s casting as if it were a no-brainer. As he told Style.com: “She’s an icon – come on!”
It could be his strong connection to music, particularly hop and R&B. Tisci art directed the images for Jay-Z and Kanye’s “Watch The Throne,” and is often seen snapping pics with “cool” kids like Frank Ocean. And it just might be that he’s one of fashion’s more progressive designers – he was the first to cast a transgender model (Lea T.) in a runway show.
The ease with which Tisci makes these moves is what we expect from an industry that prides itself on being on the cutting edge of culture. Yet we still keep seeing homogeny on the runway and clumsy references to non-mainstream cultures. What gives?
Methinks the problem is proximity. You can’t embrace diversity if you keep it at arms’ distance. To that end, it’s no wonder that the designers with the most diverse runways and ad campaigns (and inoffensive clothes) are also the one with friends and collaborators across the cultural spectrum.
Maybe today’s crop of young, diverse designers – like Tisci, Jason Wu and Cushnie et Ochs – need to give the old guard a crash course in cultural competency. Maybe Tom Ford should advise Celine that using a black model (or two, or five) won’t explode the runway. (Celine has not used one black model in the past eight seasons. EIGHT.) Maybe Tisci of Givenchy and Olivier Rousteing of Balmain should assure Christian Dior that diversifying the catwalk won’t jinx a venerated Parisian house. Perhaps Alexander Wang could convince Karl Lagerfeld to blast Nicki Minaj at his next show. (A girl can dream, can’t she?)
Alright, so maybe we won’t hear “Pound the Alarm” on the Chanel catwalk any time soon. But kudos to Riccardo Tisci for moving the needle ever so slightly by simply doing what comes naturally to him. And applause to Erykah Badu for bringing the fierceness. Hopefully an ad campaign this seminal will change the tide when it comes to inclusivity in fashion.
Veronica Miller can be found tweeting about fashion, illustration and Beyonce at @veronicamarche.