Stella Jean

Italy-based Black designers Stella Jean and Edward Buchanan are taking concrete action to boost change across the Italian fashion system.

Jean and Buchanan wrote letters to Carlo Capasa, the president of Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, and to the institution’s 14 executive members, including Miuccia Prada; Gucci’s president and chief executive officer Marco Bizzarri; Fendi chairman and ceo Serge Brunschwig, as well as Gildo Zegna and OTB’s Renzo Rosso, to cite only a few, with the intent to “advocate for a historic appeal to bring to the forefront, for the first time, the paradoxical taboo topic of race in Italy, and to support Black designers, who are still invisible in the business of Italian fashion,” as Jean wrote in an e-mail to WWD on Thursday.

In particular, she put in the spotlight the fact that while power brands made “performative gestures” to support the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S., they neglected to consider the condition of the Black minority in Italy, especially in their workforces at the executive and creative levels.

In addition, Jean put the focus on the fact that out of 113 brands that are part of the Italian fashion chamber, only one is owned by a Black designer, herself.

“We would be most appreciative if CNMI’s executive board would provide an adequate response to those who are suffering in the fashion business throughout the territory, as a result of both socioeconomic marginalization and true concern about the institutional retaliations and boycotts for breaking the silence. I personally have experienced the latter. Just one of many examples of how trying to act inclusively can quickly get you excluded,” Jean said.

Even if in 2019 the Italian fashion chamber released its first “Inclusion and Diversity Manifesto,” and in June, the association posted a black square image in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Jean lamented that during Milan digital fashion week, which closed here on July 17, “the few Black designers who were invited found themselves, as we so often are, routinely relegated in some sort of token hub.”

“Fashion should not miss this opportunity to tune into the actual truth of this country, without ever forgetting that power and responsibility are two ways to describe the same concept,” added Jean. “CNMI must have the audacity to leave the palaces of power to enter the reality of the vulnerable by making the Italian fashion system permeable to the demands of the weakest for the credible upkeep of the entire social building it represents, while simultaneously returning dignity to ignored minorities.”

In her e-mail, Jean attached the letter that she and Buchanan sent to Prada, where the duo invited the leading designer to support them in the creation of a proactive dialogue to make Milan Fashion Week more diverse and inclusive by addressing five different topics, including education, cultural appropriation and insensitivity conversation, among others.

“Let’s change things. Let’s change roundtables on diversity and workshops on the theories of multiculturalism and cultural appropriation into true work, true collaboration. Only this will ensure that all of our constant sources of passive inspiration are transformed into valid and active agents of real change.”

“Let’s find ‘tangible and enforceable solutions,’ together with those whose problems we are morally obliged to address, and sometimes are even partially responsible for,” Jean and Buchanan wrote. “Following this statement, we would very much like to invite you to take an active part in a social awareness effort this upcoming September during MFW. For the first time, this initiative would include minorities not as the subject of an outside gaze, but as true participants in a constructive, working dialogue, based on the criterion of equality and aimed at setting actionable items to be adopted by the CNMI from the very first day.”