Teaming up to support the next generation of diverse fashion talent, Harlem’s Fashion Row has forged a partnership with LVMH North America through which the two organizations will work toward a more diverse, equitable and inclusive fashion industry.
Revealing the partnership at a press conference Wednesday morning at the Whitby Hotel in New York, the partnership marks a commitment from LVMH to support HFR’s mission of discovering, mentoring and showcasing emerging talents of color through multiplatform, high-visibility events and customized pipeline programs.
LVMH has committed resources to address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion across the sector through people, business and brand initiatives and to support the next generation of diverse talent.
One of the key initiatives revealed at Wednesday’s press conference is that LVMH will be the title sponsor of Harlem’s Fashion Row’s 15th annual fashion show and style awards in New York on Sept. 6 in Harlem.
The goal of the partnership is to open doors to the next generation of talented Black, indigenous and people of color designers and connect emerging Black designers to global luxury brands across the LVMH group, which range from Louis Vuitton and Tiffany to Christian Dior, Fendi and Sephora.
“This is the biggest partnership we’ve ever had in North America and we couldn’t be more excited about it. Of course, there’s a D&I component to this, but first and foremost this is about celebrating the incredible wealth of heritage, history, culture, art and innovation of Harlem and bringing that into our world. We search the world for creative talent, it is our competitive advantage. It is the future of every single one of our brands,” said Anish Melwani, LVMH North America chief executive officer.
“Through this partnership, HFR and LVMH North America look forward to continuing their mission of giving designers of color access to individuals and organizations that can help shape their future,” said Brandice Daniel, CEO and founder of HFR. “We’ve successfully introduced a wealth of diverse designers to a world-class fashion curriculum consisting of invaluable tools and resources to grow their businesses and have educated Gen Z on how they too can change fashion’s course. Conjunctively, we’ve created opportunities for youth to engage as early as high school, meeting the marginalized, particularly HBCU students where they are in their fashion careers.”
Brands from across the LVMH portfolio, including Tiffany and Louis Vuitton, will continue to collaborate with HFR to offer mentorship and activation opportunities throughout the year and beyond. Some examples of supported initiatives include:
- THE HFR Icon 360 HBCU Summit: The HBCU Summit looks to transform the art and fashion programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the U.S. by providing direct design expertise from industry experts. In collaboration with HFR and North Carolina A&T State University’s A&T Art and Fashion Department, Tiffany & Co. will sponsor the Tenacity Talks, a 10-week lecture series featuring industry experts on topics such as jewelry design and innovation.
- HFR’S Designer Retreat: This three-day retreat hosted more than 75 designers and featured several fashion speakers. During “Industry Stops,” designers were able to visit the North American offices of Louis Vuitton and meet with executives, including Lanessa Elrod, zone president and CEO, and Thomas Haupt, senior vice president of U.S. Retail.
- Black History Month Summit: Providing a forum for conversation with industry leaders, LVMH’s Melwani and vice president of D&I Corey Smith joined Daniel to discuss the current state of diversity in fashion.
Smith said, “LVMH is committed to having a positive impact in our communities and realizing the path forward set by Virgil Abloh and others who helped foster equity and inclusion in the fashion industry by supporting and building a pool of diverse creative talent. It is critical for LVMH as an organization to continue developing talent of color internally, while ensuring the relevance of our brands and our products in an evolving and diverse consumer landscape. We see this partnership with HFR as a wonderful opportunity to focus on values, culture, business and community all at the same time, as these notions are not mutually exclusive, but interconnected and reinforcing one another.”
Daniel explained how the two organizations got together and how it’s working out so far. “We’re so excited about our partnership with LVMH. We had a conversation last year in the offices, and that one conversation has created such a rich partnership with a few different initiatives. They’ve really been incredible partners,” said Daniel. She said HFR has always been very thoughtful about which brands they partner with, “and this brand is truly doing the work.”
According to Melwani, he was introduced to the organization at HFR’s 14th annual fashion show and got to understand “how it taps into this incredible wealth of talent right here in our backyard.”
He also said that as he’s gotten to know the organization and their designers, he realized they share many of the same values. “The values of LVMH are entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and commitment to excellence, all of which are consistent with the programs of Harlem’s Fashion Week,” said Melwani.
Gena Smith, chief human resources officer at LVMH North America, said the company has a longstanding commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and launched its first work back in 2011. She said the number-one core value at LVMH is its people. “People make the difference. Everything we have at LVMH and all the reasons for the success of our group comes down to people,” she said. She said it’s the people who make the product, market the product and talk about it. “How do we make sure the best and smartest and most creative people want to work for LVMH?” she said.
Last year Corey Smith also went to the 14th annual HFR show after having joined LVMH during the pandemic. “Your show was the first show that I went to as a newbie to this industry during New York Fashion Week, and if there’s any other better way to be inducted into this industry, it doesn’t exist. I was blown away. They took over an entire Harlem block, and made it phenomenal.” After it was over, he hunted down Daniel and Felita Harris, HFR’s chief strategy and revenue officer, and said, “I need this next year. The level of luxury, the attention to detail, the diversity and inclusion that was organic to the event.” He said there were people of disabilities and an array of tones and skin colors and gender fluidity. “It physically manifested everything we are trying to accomplish at LVMH in one show, and a light bulb went off,” said Corey Smith.
He said LVMH wants to align with organizations that can help them do the things that on their own, they might need help doing. He also said this partnership is two-way. “It’s not just cutting a big check and saying go for it. It is really about we have things to offer, but you also have things you can help us learn as well,” said Cory Smith.
Melwani pointed out it comes down to what they all learned from Virgil Abloh, the late artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear. “Virgil taught by doing, not just by talking. In fact, he talked very little. It was only after the murder of George Floyd that he came to us and wanted to speak internally to all of our people. Otherwise, he talked through his work. What he showed us, in this industry, there are so many barriers, there’s so much privilege that has to be counteracted, and how difficult it is for any emerging designer to break through and just be seen and have their work be discovered. He did it by bringing along people with him, whether that was makeup artists, models and other creative directors. Just by making them visible and giving them access to this very privileged world….it makes it better. For us, we still have a lot to learn as an organization, and sadly we didn’t get to finish all the lessons from Virgil.”
Access is a big piece that’s been missing for designers of color, said Daniel.
Corey Smith said they constantly speak about LVMH being relevant in the future. “We have a very rich brand heritage, very rich brand DNA, it is always always looking backward, all of our founders and how they started, very entrepreneurial. What’s our future relevance? The only way we will continue to be relevant in the future is if we start to tap into the new creators, the new designers. The future looks very different than the past. We have recognized it, we understand it and we embrace it. Again, it makes good business sense.”
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