Black girls have been ruling the runways this Milan Fashion Week (Feb. 21-Feb. 28). Case in point: For the first time since Naomi Campbell’s opening strut back in 1997, Prada tapped a black model to open its fashion show (Jourdan Dunn is the only other black model to be booked by this global powerhouse brand since 2008). The coveted career-making position went to 19-year-old Sudanese model of the moment, Anok Yai.
Yai, who was raised in Egypt, was discovered when photographer Steven Hall’s Afrocentric street-style blog The Sunk posted a photo of her at Howard’s 2017 homecoming that went viral last fall. Now exploding with over 144,000 Instagram followers, she’s poised to blow all the way up.
Luckily, Yai happens to be represented by Kyle Hagler, president of Next Models. Hagler, one of the most powerful agents in the business, also happens to be black. Booking Prada is a triumph for model and agent alike, and though, in my opinion, the brand has a very long way to go before I would support it with my dollars or clicks, it is clearly evolving.
But overall, Milan showed a lot of beautiful black women on its fall runways. Natural hair and glowing skin were the order of the day, from Versace to Fendi.
At Versace, ’90s neon brights mixed with punk and ska-inspired plaid and black-and-white checks were the theme. Mixed patterns and bright colors are classic vintage Versace—an exuberant kind of youth riot that fashion insiders and consumers can’t seem to get enough of, judging by the FX hit miniseries American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, not to mention the number of Versace heritage prints I once again see people wearing on the streets of New York.
Fendi never disappoints. With furs and leather goods designed for the last 50 years by Karl Lagerfeld in collaboration with the Fendi sisters, it’s fashions oldest and longest-lasting collaboration, but the point of view is always fashion-forward and fresh.
Fall/Winter 2018 at Fendi felt like streetwear cool meets a socialite from Wakanda’s Jabari tribe on a Swiss ski holiday in Gstaad. Fendi captured exactly the way I want to look when it’s frosty outside: Fabulous mink capes with appliquéd florals and mink logo-printed sweatshirts came swishing down the runway, carried on perfectly padded shoulders that looked just right for the moment. I like the moment we’re in; #BlackGirlMagic casting its spell on the runways and women dressing to seize their power worldwide.
Max Mara makes beautiful clothes that work for working women. But the collection never quite seems to get its props, likely because the label lacks the flash of a star designer or the power derived from dressing celebrities necessary for a fashion house to capture a place in pop culture.
But I do like its take on dressing women—it’s sensible and sexy in the same breath—with wonderful choices for women who wear the hijab. Too often, this crucial segment of designers’ clientele is not acknowledged on American or European runways.
Conservative Muslim women account for $266 billion (yes, BILLION) of the global clothing and footwear business. As a model, I worked very closely with designers who, in the ’90s, did private showings after the main press presentations, offering to lengthen skirts and create matching hijabs for distribution to conservative Muslim clients. Never would you have seen a hijab-wearing model on the runways, until Dolce & Gabbana broke that barrier back in 2016. Now beautiful models with conservative beliefs are taking their turn and their respect as they walk the runways.
As I said, I like the moment we’re in right now: a movement toward inclusion, and celebrating power on the runways. Hopefully, as the monthlong fashion season progresses, we’ll also see more ages and sizes of women on the runways.