After a years-long battle to improve diversity on the Italian catwalks, a group of five black designers; made their on-schedule debut by opening the Milan women’s Fall/Winter fashion shows.
All this season’s shows are pre-recorded due to coronavirus, but AFP was given exclusive access to their preparations last week; at Milan’s Circolo Filologico library, not far from the Scala.
Is opening fashion week a victory? “I’d say it’s the first step,” said Michelle Ngonmo, who chose those to include in the debut show.
She is a co-founder of the collective dubbed Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion; named after the anti-racism movement that swept the United States last year and reached Europe.
Longer-term, “we have to make the society we live in understand that the ‘Made in Italy’ label is not a question of skin colour but of know-how”, she told AFP.
On an individual level, opening Milan Fashion Week is a dream come true for the designers; all Italian but born in various African countries.
Claudia Gisele Ntsama, a 29-year-old from Cameroon, admitted being; “a little nervous” as she fussed with the eco-friendly looks in pastel tones made entirely from hemp.
Nearby, fellow designer Fabiola Manirakiza played with silk in floral prints for her brand, Frida Kiza.
“In general, we are ignored, we are invisible. But this is a rebirth,”; exclaimed Manirakiza, whose parents were killed in 1972 in ethnic violence in Burundi.
Previously, the presentation of the collections of black designers was confined to Afro Fashion Week, which launched in Milan with a show in 2016.
The catalyst for change was the death last year in US police custody of an African-American man, George Floyd, an event that triggered anti-racism protests across the US and the world.