Still from Harmony Korine’s collaboration with Proenza Schouler via Nowness and Tavi
I’m not sure what’s bad and what’s the worst. I hate being put in a position where when I see any people of color in a fashion campaign, I assume funny business is involved. I assume Proenza is propifying. I’m confused as to why there is no six-foot-tall white girl standing in the foreground of that 8mm still in front of a row of functionally identical girls of color. These girls of color are shorter, not thin, therefore not the fashion object.
But that white girl isn’t there.
The film hasn’t premiered yet, but it seems like there are, so far, at least a few things going for it: It seems that the girls of color are at least the subject, not object. It seems like they might receive the same degree of characterization that any girl does in a fashion campaign (that is: not a whole lot, but some). It seems like they’re privileged to the fashion itself: usually the Girls of Color are not seen as the ones that actually are wearing/would ever be wearing the fashion we’re trying to promote. In that sense: Proenza isn’t doin’ it rong, right?
But still (and, having not seen the film): why do they have to be in the projects? OH YEAH, I GUESS IF YOU’RE GONNA GIVE A BLACK GIRL THE SPOTLIGHT THEN IT CAN ONLY BE IN THE CONTEXT OF ‘URBAN WASTELAND’ WITH DERELICT COUCHES AND HOMELESS SHOPPING CARTS. I get it. I get the aged (read: not soft-focus, but read as dated) filmography, linking people of color with another time, never current in themselves. People of color, in fashion, can never be themselves current and relevant, but designers and models and white editors and people in power can mine their unaware culture for things and make them relevant. I get it, Proenza boys. I see what you did there.
I get it, you got Harmony Korine. It isn’t racist to slumify essentially the only people of color you’ve ever used in your work if you get the writer of Kids to do your filming. And sure, from what I remember, Kids wasn’t too racially unsettling (was it?). But really, you couldn’t just put a black girl in a regular campaign, could you? You have to get a renowned slummy director to legitimize your use of people of color, because that’s the only context we’re ever allowed to show people of color in.
Here’s how it went: Proenza boy 1: Let’s use black girls in our new short film. Proenza boy 2: What?! Proenza boy 1: No, no, listen. It’s cool. They won’t be tall or skinny or fashion insiders. That would be silly. No. We’ll get some white artists and filmmakers to help us out. Stay with me here. White filmmakers and artists famous for making urban tough-life--frequently involving black or brown people--appealing to relevant fashion insiders and art-types. Like the guy from Kids. Not Clark but the other one. And one of those white 80s street artists, or something. Proenza boy 2: I think I follow… Proenza boy 1: And then we’ll find some short and notskinny black girls, and we’ll put them in our clothes, and we’ll make a film that makes it look like we discovered some somehow-fabulous people of color in their natural habitat and traditional dress. Proenza boy 2: And then we can tell people that we’re telling a story about girls who are “part of the system, yet still outsiders.” Because black people are never true originals like our inspired white NYC it-girls and fashion bloggers. Proenza boy 1: Exactly. In the press release we will tell people how we were inspired by girls who “skulk around schoolyards, spray graffiti, drink, smoke, pose and embrace, evoking the loneliness, confusion and overwhelming wonder of growing up” and “girls who sleep in abandoned cars and set things on fire. It’s about the great things in life. The stars in the sky and lots of malt liquor.” Malt liquor, get it? ‘Cause they’re black. Proenza boy 2: Chloe Sevigny is gonna love it.
Proenza Schouler Fall 2010: inspired by the slums. Which is why black people are allowed to wear it! Proenza Schouler Spring 2010 was all about the beach. And everyone knows black people hate the beach! That’s why there were no black girls in PS SS2010’s runway show. (But then, it’s not like we saw black girls on Proenza’s runway in Fashion week FS10*. Because no matter how many girls of color are in your campaign, your sewing room, your ethnographic “inspiration” photos, the names of your collection, your iPod, your Facebook friends, your fans on Facebook, the shops that sell your clothes, or your graduating class at design school—it’s never appropriate to include girls of color on your runway. It cheapens your aesthetic, right?)
*Upon inspection, PS FS10 included three models of color (from what I can tell), though no black girls. They were Lais Ribeiro (Brazilian, likely of some African origin but still somewhat comfortably within the boundaries of what Fashion Week would call the Not Too Black space), and Liu Wen and Shu Pei Qin. I don't pretend to know a lot about these models, or the models in the film, or anyone's casting process. But I'm pretty sure that the "inspiration" behind each collection was the major factor in that tiny tiny increase in models of color between Spring and Fall 2010. That is, like I said, "beachy"= always, always white, whereas "inspired by uniforms and street culture" allows more room, in High Fashion, for people of color. And don't think this escaped me: Proenza boy 1 or 2, whichever: Our collection is inspired by school girls. Let's cast two Asian models!!!
(I originally posted this on Tumblr on August 9th, 2010)
Here's an addition, about Fabian and "the persistent and systematic tendency to place nonwhites and nonwesterners in a Time other than Vogue or Galliano or anybody else in Fashion’s present." And some application of these process in Native Appropriate & Hipsters