Its Paris Fashion week and Ric Owens hired a Black step team to present his line. Watch the vid. Post your thoughts. Excerpts of the article are below.
Rick Owens at Paris Fashion Week: Use of black women’s step team instead of models sets back diversity
Rick Owens’ show did nothing to help black models, nor did it aid the
fashion industry in reversing its de facto exclusion of black women
from beauty culture. Popular reportage suggests a lack of experience
with decent step teams and a lack of perspective on what women of color
want in terms of creating inclusion.
Black not portrayed as beautiful
Beauty, whether we believe it is socially salient, was not portrayed
by the models in Owens’ show. Globally, a smile is perceived as
friendly, attractive, and consequently, more beautiful than a frown. The
models in Owens’ show had obviously been directed not to smile
and furrow their brows to look especially tough. The wild hairstyles
worn by the models — many with hair straggling down their faces — did
not resemble designs that any black women, as far as I know, would
choose for themselves. The grooming and directed countenance in Owens’
Spring 2014 show masked the models’ beauty in favor of a physically
intimidating appearance. This seems strange, when usually Paris Fashion
Week and its models are known for exquisite beauty.
Simultaneously, I think many of the models looked beautiful and
shapely compared to everyday, stick thin models (a judgment that of
course is tinted by my own culturally-influenced understanding of beauty
as a black woman). And yes, the collection is called “Vicious.” Owens
could get points for trying to break the boundaries of beauty with his
show, yet for him to use black women in this way, rather than break new
ground, it re-inscribes an age-old stereotype.
My interpretation may be sensitive as a black woman, but for many, scowling black women stir up the stereotype of the “angry black woman,” and Owens’ step team likely did the same for his audience.
Hiding the beauty of these models and directing them towards more
harsh expression, the Owens show only underscored the portrayal of black
women as “angry,” when the potential was there to glorify the black
woman as curvy and, as these dancers were, powerful. The step
performance did little to complicate the seemingly furious nature of
these women, when real step shows portray black womanhood in all its
Black models and their allies, particularly fashion activist Bethann Hardison, have been asking for inclusion on the basis that black women are beautiful, not show ponies used for a thematic presentation that ups the thrill factor of a one-off show.
The opposite of black beauty?
Owens’ show was the opposite of dignifying black beauty. Instead of
speaking to Hardison’s recent calls for greater inclusion on the runway
with more professional black models on his stage, this step show seemed
to say, “Look at these snarling, full-figured, stomping women. How
ironic that they’re wearing designer clothes. But they’re black!”
The presentation seemed to mock true diversity at black womens’
expense. And some people just didn’t think the stepping itself was very
good, perhaps due to the context, and the moves being watered down.
I can appreciate Rick Owens’ creativity, based in industrial, subversive aesthetics. But stepping is not his culture to appropriate. As a consumer, I know that it is appropriation, and that it is inauthentic.
Respect for black beauty will not achieved by appropriated inclusion.
It requires acknowledgement and respect for how black women see
themselves, not picking and choosing elements of their experience and
presenting them out of context for good publicity.