Black creatives in Italian fashion demand cultural reform

Full Screen
1 / 7

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Fashion designer Stella Jean talks during an interview with the Associated Press, in Rome, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. Stella Jean, a Haitian-Italian designer born and raised in Rome, launched her appeal this summer. She asked the Italian National Fashion Chamber and the global powerhouses steering it, including Prada, Ferragamo and Zegna, to back their social media pledges supporting the Black Lives Matter movement with concrete, transparent commitments toward greater racial diversity. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

MILAN – The only Black designer belonging to Italy’s influential fashion council is demanding a "long overdue cultural reform’’ from her colleagues under the slogan: Do Black Lives Matter in Italy?

The conversation has gotten off to a rocky start.

Stella Jean, a Haitian-Italian designer born and raised in Rome, launched her appeal this summer. She asked the Italian National Fashion Chamber and the global powerhouses steering it, including Prada, Ferragamo and Zegna, to back their social media pledges supporting the Black Lives Matter movement with concrete, transparent commitments toward greater racial diversity.

In response, Jean received a letter from the council president saying that addressing racial disparity within Italian fashion was not within the body's area of responsibility, despite the fact that members had backed a diversity manifesto in December. According to the letter, such initiatives "pertain instead to parliament, the government or any other bodies.’’

Exasperated, Jean has decided not to preview a runway collection at Milan Fashion Week until “they demonstrate awareness of the problem.”

‘’When you talk with them, they have no bad intentions, I know them. But they say something like 'What are you talking about, Stella? We have never heard about racism in Italy. It is not an Italian story, it is about the U.S., the U.K., other countries. Not Italy,'’’ Jean told The Associated Press. “My response is: ‘Why do you see all these people filling squares from the north to the south of this country for Black Lives Matter, this entire generation of invisible new Italians?’”

Soccer, another important Italian cultural institution, recognized that Italy has a problem with racism and worked to eliminate it.

Racially charged gaffes by Italian fashion houses have been well-documented, from Gucci’s Blackface sweater to Prada’s Little Black Sambo bag charm to Dolce&Gabbana videos that were seen by many as mocking Asians. This summer, Marni, another major fashion house, apologized after being called out for its images of a Black man with chains around his ankles.