French Elle’s ‘Black-geosie’ Article Causes a Stir

18 comments
January 24, 2012 ‐ By

It’s come to be expected that people will miss the mark when discussing black people, but with so many examples of what not to do, you can’t help but wonder why people still don’t get it.

Nathalie Dolivo, a writer for French Elle, is catching a lot of heat for a blog on black fashion power that, in a nutshell, attributes the “recent” rise in black American’s fashion sense to Michelle Obama and the adoption of “white codes” of fashion. She wrote of the first lady’s influence:

“For the first time, the chic has become a plausible option for a community so far pegged [only] to its streetwear codes.”

And like so many writers attempt to do, Dolivo coined her own phrase to describe the representatives of this street to sanctuary transformation: “black-geoisie,” a play on the French social class, bourgeoisie.

“If in 2012 the ‘black-geoisie’ has integrated all the white codes [of fashion], they [do so not] literally. [There] is always a classic twist, with a bourgeois ethnic reference (a batik-printed turban/robe, a shell necklace, a ‘créole de rappeur’) reminiscent [of] the roots. It [has] shifted, [it is] new, desirable, powerful.”

So basically we’ve traded in Baby Phat, RocaWear, Apple Bottoms, and the House of Dereon for Michael Kors, H & M, Zara, and Marc Jacobs, and thrown on a black power necklace to set it all off. I guess we should just be glad black-geoisie is less offensive than n****b****.

What’s most unfortunate about the article is that it makes black fashion political. Aren’t we allowed to simply experiment and try new things without it being an adoption of white fashion? Race never needed to enter the discussion from the point of influence.

The article itself is ironic because black people are often seen as the fashion trendsetters, noticing some style we’ve worn for years suddenly showing up on the runway and being labeled as chic, like headscarves or Vogue Italia’s Slave Earrings. I suppose we could consider that an attribution to black culture but I’ll pass. The thing is no one calls out white people for their adoption of black style, and how they flip it to suddenly be the “in” thing for the masses, but now this writer seeks to strip our style from us and appropriate it to white people and the one black woman they believe to be respectable in the United States, Michelle Obama.

Several of French Elle‘s readers fired back with comments showing their disapproval for Dolivo’s assumptions that before 2012 “we dressed in hay and burlap bags” and remarking that “Black women are beautiful and elegant, [and do] not need magazines to tell us what to wear, we dress with taste and class and we have always done” but there hasn’t been a response from the mag, and I’m not sure one is needed.

What this article draws out more than anything is the significance of the first lady. It’s a shame that it took Michelle Obama to show up on the scene wearing a Jason Wu ballgown or a J Crew sweater for the rest of the fashion world to realize black folks have diverse style, but I hate to think what they’d write about us if they didn’t look to her as the one icon of chic style among black women.

How do you feel about this article? Do you think it was harmless or somewhat derogatory?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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  • No Disrespect

    What about how “white fashion” (whatever that is) was influenced by “black codes” (whatever that is)? I don’t understand why these white designers think they are so original and creative. The only original people on earth were the indigenous people. Everything is an evolution — all the designers that ever created their signature design used inspiration from past designers or other cultures and tried to blend it with the styles of the present and their personal taste to create something different. If black designers are using white codes, I guess the author is trying to say that a black person in a nice dress or suit is dressing white. GTFOH. It is her ridiculous attempt to place white designers on some pedestal which, according to her, black designers are now trying to reach. I guess we are finally civilized now that we have accepted and started to dress and make clothes according to the “white codes”. SMDH – whatever makes her sleep good at night. Instead of saying this black designer is very good, she tries to take away from the designers talent in creating something different by stating that the designer is copying white designers. LMAO to the fact that they say black people make everything about race. I had no idea there were black and white design codes — I thought there were just different cuts, colors, cloths, lengths, and personal tastes regardless of race. 

  • Twixia

    As a black French girl of Congolese descent who was born and raised in France and who still lives there, I will say that I’m not shocked by this article because here, white people always consider black fashion or style as “folklorique”.
     It means that when you wear something from your country or ethnic you always have comments as : “You should wear that more often, that’s really “you”!!” but by the same time they are the one to criticize people who always wear the clothes the way they were weaaring back to Africa because there are excluding themselves from the society.Now that it’s trendy to wear ethnic clothes, they suddenly changed their minds.By the way, here in France say the N word (Negro in French) is as negative as in the US. It’s more a joke between black floks than an insult except from old white people who are the only people to still use this word.

  • Twixia

    As a black French girl of Congolese descent who was born and raised in France and who still lives there, I will say that I’m not shocked by this article because here, white people always consider black fashion or style as “folklorique”.
     It means that when you wear something from your country or ethnic you always have comments as : “You should wear that more often, that’s really “you”!!” but by the same time they are the one to criticize people who always wear the clothes the way they were weaaring back to Africa because there are excluding themselves from the society.Now that it’s trendy to wear ethnic clothes, they suddenly changed their minds.By the way, here in France say the N word (Negro in French) is as negative as in the US. It’s more a joke between black floks than an insult except from old white people who are the only people to still use this word.

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  • Me3

    Dang! I love conservative clothes, but this just make me want to wear dashikis all day every day just to piss them off!
    I am not trying to be like them when I wear conservative clothes, I am just being me. Black people come in all variety and we have different tastes! We are individuals, damn it!

  • Squeezablechic

    My husband lived in France for 7 years. He says they’re racist, and some still call Black people, “Negroes.”

    • Smacks_hoes

      Not surprising

  • http://twitter.com/Normally_Weird driven

    where there are black women, there are haters.

  • JN31

    Sigh… I’m not surprised by Nathalie Dolivo’s statements but I am surprised that people are shocked that there are white people who are so narrow minded with no real point of reference to African American culture that they feel this way. This “fashion” writer must have just woke up from a coma if she didn’t notice that for the past few seasons, designers have been inspired by (or stealing) ethnic and african/tribal inspired pieces for numerous collections- that is surprising. Not her ignorance, or stereotypical behavior. What is it going to take until people realize that the ones behind these ignorant statements are simply that- ignorant, and most likely harbor some internal disdain for people of color. Much like Hollywood, the fashion world is racist. You have an industry that both loves and loathes African Americans at the same time. I expect the obligatory apology to be issued shortly while at the same time condoning the behavior and saying the writer “didn’t mean anything” by it.

    The world is a cruel place. We can’t change what other people think of us, and at this point, it’s time to stop caring about those people and focus on ourselves.

    • Smacks_hoes

      Cosign…who cares anymore. There are ignorant people all around the world. We cnt change people’s views about us. All we can do is live our lives.

  • Pfeiffer87

    I think the vibrancy and elegancy of ‘Black Fashion’ is precisely down to the fact that it hasn’t integrated into ‘white codes’ of fasion. Black women can look great in clothes and colours that white women could never wear!

    • Smacks_hoes

      Why say things like that though? If a white person said a statement like that black people would be quit to call them a racist.

      • anonymous

        But why not say things like this when white people are writing articles like this and N**** B? Black people need to realise that the way things are going with all these ‘digs’ if we keep letting them off the hook easily next thing you know your boss at work will hold a whip on you while working thinking you’re in a cotton plantation again. I’msorry you say something in relation to my race I’ll say worse so you know how it feels. Trying to be the bigger person doesn’t always help the matter.

        • Sugar_Spice

          Preach, I agree with you 100%.  A lot of people might call us sensitive for anyways being defensive against articles like this & such but it’s not just whites who throw these little “digs” out there anymore, I’ve personally experienced it from Hispanics, Armenians, etc. My co-worker had the audacity to say he’s pissed because his people (he’s Mexican) are the new n*ggers & we need to take our place back in line.

      • Tinika Gause

        Because it’s true!

        why have a name like Smacks_Hoes which is offensive to all women.

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