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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