Written by: Phindile Le Bris Sithole-Spong
I know it has been a couple weeks since the 2021 Met Gala, but there is something that I have been wanting to share about this year’s Met Gala. Like many, I was so excited to see what was worn by the distinguished celebrities and influencers. And as exciting as it was, I was also aware of the scarcity of black creatives, in this case black designers that are represented on the red carpet.
Like big events such as the Oscars or the Grammys, the Met Gala is a wonderful opportunity for designers and design houses to showcase their work. This allows them to be seen on a global stage dressing some of the most influential people in the world. Consequently, the lack of representation has always been glaring, and has unfortunately been a reality for many black creatives in the fashion industry. This year however, the pain of this reality struck home a little harder as the theme for the Met Gala was: “In America: A lexicon of fashion.” While the theme itself is open to interpretation, the simple mention of the word “America” should have (at least in my humble opinion) included a wide range of African American and indigenous designers. Furthermore, the word “Lexicon” refers to references. Notably, African American designers have shown their imminence through their references and their unquestionable fashion influence, these designers have, throughout time defined decades of fashion trends. Essentially, their work can no longer take a back seat! – their work is worthy of centre stages and influential runways! – their work should be supported and honoured!
Despite the fact that representation of African American designers was rather low at the Met Gala, there were some highlights that revealed that African American designers are not forgotten, in fact, these highlights were probably a sign that such designers have emerged and will continue to emerge. For instance, the head of fashion for Instagram Eva Chen wore a vibrant Christopher John Rogers dress that had a strong nod to the LGBTQIA community. New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore a custom strapless dress by Brother Vellies with the words “Tax the rich” written on the back. The biggest support of black designers however, came from Formula 1 driver, Lewis Hamilton who bought an entire table at the gala and invited young, up and coming black designers to the event (what a champion!).
I commend Eva, Alexandria and Lewis. They blatantly opened up a world of opportunities for black designers. Their actions become a global reminder that no matter how big or small, we can all contribute towards supporting, honoring and elevating black creatives in all spaces. So, even if we cannot necessarily buy a whole tables at events like the Met Gala, we can start by supporting local designers and black owned businesses.