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Milan Fashion Week hears calls for more designer diversity

MILAN — Milan Fashion Week which opens on Wednesday features perhaps the most ethnically diverse designer collections, including the debut of new creative directors Salvatore Ferragamo and Bally and the return of the Haitian-Italian designer Stella Jean after a two-year hiatus.

But Jean and other industry insiders behind a campaign to open up the Italian fashion world to minority talent say true inclusion remains elusive.

Jean, who made her Milan debut in 2013, has pledged in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests not to return to Milan Fashion Week as long as she remains the only black designer represented. This week, it won’t.

Maximilian Davis, a 27-year-old British fashion designer with Afro-Caribbean roots, makes his debut as creative director of Salvatore Ferragamo. Filipino American designer Rhuigi Villasenor brings Bally back to the catwalks for the first time in 20 years. Tokyo James, founded by the British-Nigerian designer Iniye Tokyo James, presents an exclusively feminine collection.

Jean said the real change that persuaded her to return to the Milan catwalk was the work of the We Are Made in Italy campaign, which she launched in 2020 with Milan-based African-American designer Edward Buchanan and the Afro Fashion Week Milano founder Michelle Ngonmo.

Jean is set to headline a show with Buchanan and five new We Are Made in Italy designers, including a Vietnamese clothing designer, an Italian-Indian accessories designer and an African-American bag designer. It is the third WAMI group to present its collections in Milan.

“We’re making ourselves felt,” Jean told The Associated Press. “We invited all these young people. We created the space. There have been gains. »

Among the successes of the 2-year campaign: Trussardi and Vogue Italia used the WAMI database of Italy-based color fashion professionals, although the lists were not used industry-wide as the founders hoped. One of the creators of the first WAMI promotion, Gisele Claudia Ntsama, worked in the design office of Valentino.

Giorgio Armani, who contributed to the launch of Stella Jean in 2013, participated in the textiles of the new WAMI capsule collections which will be presented here. Conde Nast and the European fashion magazine nss help finance their production. The three founders of WAMI are covering the rest from their own pockets after the fashion council offered a venue for the show but limited funding compared to previous seasons.

Ngonmo said Italian fashion houses too often confuse diversity – such as showcasing black models – with genuine inclusiveness, which would mean employing professionals in the creative process.

“I don’t think they understand what diversity means at all. They tend to confuse diversity with inclusion,” she said.

Buchanan said he remained optimistic but acknowledged the post-pandemic market was tough as stores were not investing in collections from new designers.

“We knew it was going to be slow growth,” Buchanan said. “Working with designers, we need to be transparent about what’s in store for them. … They won’t be Gianni Versace tomorrow.

Jean noted that the new designers of the big fashion brands did not come from the Italian system but from abroad. Despite the progress, she and her staff still see some resistance to hiring people of color in creative roles and the idea that “Made in Italy” can involve local black talent.

“It’s more glamorous to have someone from the outside,” she says.

Jean said she was also waiting for the Italian fashion council to follow up on an invitation to create a multicultural council within its structure. She said she felt the industry’s initial embrace of the diversity project had cooled.

“None of us believed all of the promises. We are now entering territory that we know well, where people feel free and comfortable not to keep their promises. said John.

As for her future: “I’m at a crossroads,” said the designer. “My traveling companions are outside the door I was allowed in. For a while, being the only one in the room, it feels special. But when you see that many of those still outside the door are better than you, you understand that you weren’t special. You were very lucky.

This release corrects the age of British designer Maximilian Davis to 27, not 26.

Hazel J. Edmonds

The author Hazel J. Edmonds