So often we see lines being drawn in the world of fashion. Where couture prevails, and the admirers and aspirers only do as such- merely aspire. Niche groups such as: full-figured, Nigerian, Dancehall Caribbean fashion weeks are conjured up in an effort to give voice to a community that is desolate in the mainstream couture fashion market. Fashion then becomes more than just a space for young fashion designers to showcase their work, but rather a movement that contests the Eurocentric driven global institution of fashion and beauty. These fashion shows carry with it a dense message or call for change, it attempts to build the very market it accuses fashion to be devoid of. In many ways, fashion becomes a means of self-expression- it becomes art. It becomes a space to celebrate what's often intentionally left out. It becomes a platform to resist Westernization and fight for the inclusivity of all.
When fashion takes on such an integral message, it can no longer be disassociated with its producer or consumers. With identity as the motivating or key factor within a collection, not only does the person speak through their fashion, but their fashion, speaks about themselves. Fashion has been used as a platform to celebrate the triumphs of marginalized communities to stand in solidarity arguing for their identity to be seen as beautiful, meaningful, and worthy of representation. Designers like Patrick Kelly, and his ode to exacerbation or reclamation of black stereotyping, or Issey Miyake, and his reference to technology and shape that very much mimics traditional Japanese origami art, are living proof of that truth.
I came across these three videos on fashion weeks across in different spaces that I assumed had been dedicated to that very truth, however, what I got was quite the contrast. The approach the video took had no real stance on any of the topics discussed, and presented me as the viewer with an exposé on the subjects that almost felt invasive, as there seemed to be no real goal. Despite the obvious lack of agency the interviewer had in every group she entered, once I got over that hurdle, I still felt lacking. In all of these videos, fashion becomes the person- it becomes identity, only it doesn’t. Many of these fashion weeks reeked with an overt attention to Westernization, as there was an intense and sometimes subtle aspiration to conform, even if in cases, it seemed to have completely failed.
Full-figured fashion week goers say that they have become a “sisterhood,” over shed tears. Their bond extends off the runway, and becomes a community of support. "Size has no barrier for beauty,” they chant as a collective. If you could remove the author's dominant voice in the piece, you would see the complex relationships these women have with fashion. Not only are they seeking entrance as women who are full-figured, but also as black women. The organizer and founder as well as a majority of the women in the show were women of color. We know by now that we can’t depend on the video to say it, but neither the video nor the women address this. Solely based on these intersectional identities these women possess, they are and have been excluded from the couture and high fashion community, lacking the support of a big Mercedes- Benz logo slapped on their backdrops and the leadership of a fashion insider to afford them certain means of access.
This was documented back in 2008, the first year a Full Figured Fashion Week was ever held so I would hope there to have been strides made by then. In either case, through the creation of full-figured fashion week, we see that creating these niche groups can on one hand, be effective in securing a community with a similar vision or stance, but on the other, it can also be extremely isolating, as you essentially draw a line through the creation of a sub-industry. The women in this video aren’t necessarily conforming, but what we see working here is more of a subtle aspiration. In all honesty, as harsh as this may sound, in my humble opinion, from what I saw, there was no real innovation or talent displayed by the designers, and the show was a bit run-in-the-mill. I tried working around having to say that, but in order for me to make my point, it requires my full honesty. These ladies seem to be after an image and not necessarily promoting fashion as an art. In other words, they aspire the commercialism and visibility of full-figured women on a whole rather than actively working to promote designers and build their repertoire in an effort to show a full-figured collection next to say a Phillip Lim or Oliver Rousteing on at Paris runway show. I’m sure they wouldn’t claim to not aspire the later, but I think their actions to me say something different.
In Nigeria, they advocate that "It is Africa's time," and besides the runways being completely void of natural hair textures, there is little reference to Western style. However, there is an overt attention to glamour and high-class living. The models traveled on a yacht to their rehearsal space, there were red carpets on the stoops of a luxury hotel, and an exclusivity that reigned in the air as throughout the time leading up to the event, people were frantically measuring who would be escorted both in- and out.
The Caribbean Dancehall Fashion Show sealed the deal on the theory of Westernization working differently throughout each fashion weeks. Men and women alike were bleaching their skin in efforts to so-call "add a final accessory to their looks." Westernization was in full effect as many fashion week goers and supporters of bleaching creams were in extreme denial as to the problematic nature of their acts. I decided to look further into this topic because as sure as their were people supporting this, there were bound to be many actively speaking out against this.
It is clear exploitation. None of these videos are actively trying to present these situations from a critical lens, both probably because they actually lack the capacity to do so, or because quite frankly, they are not really interested in doing so. There are clear moments where the reporter seems completely aloof, or guilty as she lacks any connection or stake in these issues. They aren't getting at anything really. They present these videos, and tin their worlds, the issue exist as long as the video does. We see this when they try to tie a pretty little bow on the issues at the end of all their videos.
*all videos - [source]