Fashion week is a time when the industry looks to the future. Runways, front rows, private dinners, and photoshoot sets are filled with fresh new ideas about what it means to be stylish, feminine, and important.
It is also a time for reflection. At the SoHo location of luxury consignment retailer The Real Real Bethann Hardison and Victor Glemaud sat in conversation with Julie Gilhart about their perspectives on where the industry has been and how today’s black professionals can have an impact on where it’s going.
“It’s coded, it’s quiet, it happens behind the scenes,” he said. “There isn’t a particular situation it’s just a feeling that one knows,” he added.
He revealed that despite the appearance of major progress the business was still full of microaggressions like the executives in C-suites who assumed that he was incapable of understanding the financial aspects of the industry.
He said he was repeatedly asked, “This business model who came up with that?” “Who is sort of behind it?” He said he was met with shock when he would issue the response, “You’re looking at him.”
“There’s a surprise that I’m knowledgeable. They’re expecting someone to be sitting there with me.”
But despite the ignorance he was met with, he maintained that “it’s how we navigate that and push forward,” that matters. He says his “tenacity,” was a major key to his continued success and advised those in attendance to do the types of research that goes beyond typing something in an Instagram search box.
He recalled calling Tommy Hilfiger every Friday “for months religiously” to secure his first internship. Once he got his big chance to assist on a show he was tasked with “lint brushing the girls’ shoes.” He affirmed that “it’s still one of the best things I’ve done in fashion.”
As Glemaud advocated for fighting ignorance with fortitude Hardison talked about the power of doing so with education. She said when booking models, she would ask pointed questions to get decision-makers to see their implicit biases.
“I was always trying to show them the imbalance of what they were saying,” she said. “I would do little things.” One of those so-called little things including pointing out to Brides magazine that they had never so much as included a Black bridesmaid in any of their spreads.
“You do know that Black people get married,” she asked a representative from their organization when they contacted her to book the same brunette, they had used countless times before.
She said that sometimes solving the problem was as simple as “just making people aware.” But she explained that sometimes doing so required speaking up a little louder. “You have to call people out, naming names and saying that no matter what their intent is if you use thirty-five girls or forty boys girls and you only use two or three…”
“I had a real responsibility,” she stated. Despite how well she honored that perceived responsibility she rejected the label of activist. “I was never an activist that’s a job. I’m not an activist, I’m an advocate,” she said looking to educate those in the room. “Words are thrown around very easily and I love to get it right and help others get it right,” she remarked.
Like Glemaud, she advocated for preparation when entering an industry full of ferocious competition. “To be a designer today, you’re not allowed to make mistakes,” she warned.
“It is more important to have a great business you can leave to your kids than to be famous.” She also championed the power of presence. When asked by an attendee how they should handle the feeling that they were only being included to fill a quota or acquiesce to a trend she replied that it was critical to take advantage of the opportunity.
“Who cares if it’s for real? Get in there! And you when you get in there be there! If they get used to seeing it, they get used to having you around.”
“Words again,” she concluded “Desire, ambition,- two different things.”