arts x leisure section

As if by rite of passage, the Black model archive is filled with trials of hapharzard handling of one’s hair. Left in the hands of hairstylists deaf to the temperment of Black tresses, Black fashion pioneers have recounted tales of their coils and strands being stretched to their breaking, frayed ends; scalps carelessly permed, harshly scorched, battered with color, and left to be restored by weaves, wigs, and the shearing of frazzled locks.

These haunting experiences are now often shrouded in frustrated one-off tweets, or woeful interview admissions from present-day Black fashion favorites Jourdan Dunn and Chanel Iman, messages that acknowledge a problem, but rarely hold few responsible. This while Black model stalwarts Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks have fought the effects of alopecia publicly, Banks raising significant awareness to the damaging toll modeling has caused to her hair by going completely natural in 2010, even urging Larry King to feel her restored scalp in an on-camera 2009 interview.

It is uplifting then to see the newest pack of Black models storming the catwalks in full embrace of their natural hairstyles, from cropped Afros, flat tops, to buzzed scalps–and in turn being embraced by the industry that has typically approached Black hair with skepticism and harsh critique.

Click here to read the remainder of my first VOGUE Italia piece on the natural hair trend I spotted on the FW12 runways. 

Photo of Herieth Paul courtesy of Ryan MicGinley for the EDUN Spring 2012 campaign

Caroline Issa x MFW

While I work tirelessly on my new LADYPANTS project (one I think you will love), I still remain inspired by the happenings in fashion that are occurring around me. Fashion month is, of course, a focal point of mine at the moment, but I am finding that so much of the excitement is happening off the runway these days. I am admittedly inundated, swept under a deluge of fashion, what with the constant stream of collections (Fall/Winter, Spring/Summer, Resort, Cruise, Pre-Fall, Pre-Spring, select collaborations, next! next! next!), that it’s harder to suss out the mediocrity and make the proper edits. I often think of what designer, Azzedine Alaia once said of it all: “Today I believe designers are asked to do too much, too many collections. It’s inconceivable to me that someone that creative can have a new idea every two months. Because if I have one new idea in a year, I thank heaven.” Only the greats can get away with such candidness.

Julia Sarr-Jamois x MFW

However, I have found inspiration in the little spots of genius like the new Barney’s New York’s Spring campaign, “Tree Time.”

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 **An excerpt from my recent Huffington Post article, “Sisterly Love: The Rise of the Black Girl Crush”. 

Writer, David Foster Wallace, once wrote that the lives of others are a writer’s dinner; they are our sustenance. We observe, analog, and interrogate the sequential series of events, happenstances, and eccentricities of strangers and those closest to us, out of necessity — not to meddle. Life’s oddities are our fuel to work, to create; we are able to make connections and deductions that work to bridge varying histories, paths, and people together. But more importantly, we analyze the innards of “human situations” as a way to asses how individuals are perceived.

Without such fodder, we wind up speaking only of ourselves. Wallace absolved a tremendous amount of shame of mine with that principle and it has in turn helped me rectify my fascination with the lives of other women who happen to look just like me. Black women, more broadly — and Black women,artistically inclined and deftly dressed, more specifically.

For a style writer, whose work’s main focal point is the intersection of class, sex, race, and gender amongst the crowds gathered at Les Tuileries, it is uplifting to find tufts of a coiled Afro peeking out above the stylized fashion packs. Although I find that I can enjoy fashion and style on a very neutral level, as an individual who simply appreciates beauty, I preternaturally want to find out who that Afro belongs to. I want to learn how she has found herself amidst the glamour, and how she has navigated it all. This is the sustenance I was speaking of earlier.

In this, I have been taken with the lives and stories of several women, as of late: Solange Knowles, Shala Monroque, Julia Sarr-Jamois, Tracee Ellis Ross, Viola Davis, Kara Walker. All enchanting women who have summoned admirers through their varied talents in art, fashion editorial, music, acting, and entertainment — and yes, their alluring personal style. I’ve eagerly read up on their beginnings, successes, and philosophies in countless interviews, attended their lauded movies or art exhibitions, procured publications which they’ve covered or been featured amongst the pages of, and soaked up their energy and conspicuous intellect overheard in recorded interviews and even, memorable one-on-one conversations.

Though erring on the side of “ogling” (again, Wallace explains, a natural component of my job criteria as a writer), all this helps me piece the woman together, etch out a greater idea of this individual, and create a philosophical and sartorial alignment with one another in my mind. What blooms is not voyeurism, nor fandom, because I think that suggests an unequal balance of interest. But something much more subtle: a simple and honest-to-goodness “girl crush.”

Read the rest of “Sisterly Love…” at Huffington Post here.

Photo courtesy of Vintage Black Glamour

The Sri-Lankan-born, British-reared rapper/singer/activist/style juggernaut that is M.I.A., once explained that her fiery, provocative synth-heavy rhymes placed her on the “no fly list” in the U.S.; a deemed “threat”, she was amused by the bold tactic played by the Bush administration at the time, but never afraid. To her, life had imitated art in such a strong and conspicuous way (see her rap anthem, “Paper Planes”), it became apart of her stage routine and overall legacy as a fascinating performer, while proving her work necessary.

With her latest effort, “Bad Girls”, off her upcoming and long-awaited follow-up to 2010’s debatable, / \ / \ / \ Y / \ (an album that did not fare well with critics and was considered a postpartum misstep), she embraces the same iconoclastic bravado that once made her a threat–instead now it is projected towards the pop world. Set within the parched deserts of Middle Eastern terrain, she raps long of the rash, exciting, and sometimes errant ways that mark a life of a rebel. Flanked by a harem of synchronized Saudi princesses swathed in patterned hijabs, M.I.A. writhes in sand dunes bedecked in gold, neon, sequins, and drifts along emptied concourses in BMW’s with a pack of camouflaged speed racers. Perhaps a commentary on the gauche lifestyle of most in the Western hemisphere (one possesses all the trappings of wealth, but occupies a vacuous space), it is most certainly the stuff of legends.

In fact, when I saw this video, I thought back on her 2010 comments on Lady Gaga, another controversial move of hers. As she saw (sees?) it: “[Gaga] models herself on Grace Jones and Madonna, but the music sounds like 20-year-old-Ibiza music, you know?…She’s not progressive, but she’s a good mimic. She sounds more like me than I do!” In a word, present music lacks originality, it lacks the true spirit of musical dissidents, or as Madonna recently put it, it’s all so “reductive.” In fact, it’s no surprise then that she’s teamed with Madge and Nicki Minaj for Madonna’s comeback, lending her panache to the just released single,“LUV Madonna.”**

It all just seems so omniscient, M.I.A.’s own return, in this grand and gangsta way: her way of proving to pop music’s reigning queens that they do it well, but ne’er as good as she.

**No, it’s not subtle in the least–and yet, brilliant for that very reason.

…and so does Shala Monroque’s response to ELLE France’s staggeringly misguided and misaligned article on “Black Power Fashion” begin. I urge you all to read it, as Shala’s passion for this subject is palpable–although generally, she, herself, has a total aversion to injustice of any kind. She stands in opposition to the failure to enlighten ourselves, which is something I always seem to gather from our conversations, and what I take away the most from her: the refusal to stand for less.

Hence Monroque’s sheer bafflement at the magazine’s sloppy conclusions towards the advent of Black Style; how at the stylish appointment of First Lady Michelle Obama, that an interest in fashion for Black women world-wide has seemingly been sparked. The editor’s limited conjecture instead espouses that nowhere in history or time have we had the fashion acumen worthy of attention or icon status. Collecting a hodepodge of imagery of Black stylish folks across time, Monroque has arranged a beautiful “family album” of sorts, showcasing our “inherited legacy of chic-ness.” It warmed my soul to go over them all, from Josephine Baker, Dorothy Dandrige, Grace Jones, stoic Black women–nameless, but ne’er forgotten–at the turn of the 20th century, Martin Luther King, to Jimmy Hendrix.

Highlighting the work of Chimamanda Adichie’s speech for Ted Talks titled, “A Singe Story”, Shala intimates that limiting anyone’s struggle, anyone’s story to a single idea, story, or misnomer, will never offer a full truth. That ELLE France’s editors pulled from one woman’s narrative to describe an entire culture, because quite frankly, they had never cared to acknowledge the many stories that had come before Mrs. Obama’s; that we even had a style history to speak of.

I am so glad that Shala took the time to retort and in essence do the “homework” for ELLE France. It was thoughtful and necessary, and when Ms. Monroque speaks, people listen. But I will admit that I wish she didn’t have to. I personally am tired of having to explain my history, my culture, the sway in my step, the kink in my hair, the reason I sound like a “Valley Girl”, and the origin of my name. I’ve been doing it all my life, me this purported “anomaly” occupying an otherwise racially “neutral” space (read: White).

I love telling my story, to be sure, and I think that is so much apart of the project: presenting and reworking narratives about the lives of Black peoples in the Americas and beyond. But likewise, my parents spent an inordinate amount of money on my British-leaning/Ivy League education for me to, yes, move fluidly in a Western mainstream society that does not take so kindly to people who look like me, and I have in turn learned so much about a history that does not seemingly concern me. The least the mainstream can do is dare to read up on me, a brown girl, and get the story right.

**Many thanks to Shala for siting my piece, “The Styles of Black Folks…” as one of the “more articulate [readings] on Black style & culture.” My article was mentioned alongside the touching work of Adiche and Lilian Roxon, and I am again truly humbled.

The light shone brightly on my female form, as Fela Kuti’s “African Woman” pulsed through the room, altering its energy  dramatically. Is it a cliché to say that the African rhythms sent this raconteur sailing through her imagination? Or was it the bias cut of a threadbare micro-printed dress that had her swinging ? No matter, I was in another stratosphere by now: I was thinking of the life once before lived in this dress, cut finely along the slight of a woman’s curve. A woman must have been courted in such a dress, her beau dabbing at the sweat beads that had surfaced along his brow and across his upper lip upon beholding her image.

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