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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Fashion statements

First Lady Michelle Obama’s celebrated (and criticized) Jason Wu gown — see the second half of this post — may have some company at the Smithsonian Institution, our national gallery of revered things. The museum has reportedly also requested the hat that Aretha Franklin wore on Inauguration Day while singing a memorable “My Country, Tis of Thee” at the Jan. 20 ceremony.

African American women and millinery have a very special relationship. It’s not telling a tale out of school to say that sistahs and hats go back. So perhaps understandably, Aretha is reportedly having some … issues with letting go of the hat, and still weighing whether or not to donate the hat, designed by Luke Song, to the museum, People.com reported.

“I am considering it. It would be hard to part with my chapeau since it was such a crowning moment in history,” the Queen of Soul told People. “I would like to smile every time I look back at it and remember what a great moment it was in American and African-American history. Ten cheers for President Obama.”

Now, far be it from us to come between anyone and their special fashion items; male or female, we all have a few of our favorite things and we’re loathe to let them go. But still. This is history calling, and if anyone can relate to history, it’s someone who helped make it.

Aretha didn’t ask, of course, but it’s a natural: The hat has a place in history. Might be a good idea to put it in a historic place. Just sayin'.

◊ ◊ ◊

The politics of fashion came to Washington right along with a new administration. No sooner had Michelle Obama dazzled the world with her Inauguration Day clothes than someone took her to task for what she didn’t wear.

On Jan. 22 the head of the Black Artists Association, an ad hoc group of artists, publicly laid into the First Lady for not wearing an African-American designer during the inaugural festivities. On Inauguration Day, Obama wore a dress designed by Cuban-American designer Isabel Toledo; that night she wore a gown by the Taiwan-born designer Jason Wu, a dress now on its way to the Smithsonian.

BAA co-founder Amnau Eele, a former model, told WWD: “It's fine and good if you want to be all ‘Kumbaya’ and ‘We Are the World’ by representing all different countries. But if you are going to have Isabel Toledo do the inauguration dress, and Jason Wu do the evening gown, why not have Kevan Hall, B Michael, Stephen Burrows or any of the other black designers do something too?" Eele said. WWD first published the Black Artists group statement on Jan. 22.

Since then, it’s gotten ugly: Eele has apparently received death threats in response to her criticism of Obama for not wearing an African-American designer to the inauguration, Womens Wear Daily reported on Jan. 27.

She told the magazine, “We spoke up for black designers because we felt it was the right thing to do."

Eele has since maintained a lower profile, not responding to requests to other media requests for interviews.
Wendy Donahue of the Chicago Tribune reported Jan. 28 that Eele and her artist and partner Clifton Mallery sued NBC in 2007, saying their work had been misappropriated on the hit show "Heroes." The lawsuit was dismissed.

“Now,” Donahue wrote in the Tribune Web site on Jan. 28, “a story that started as a commentary on a post-racial America is beginning to look more like an episode of ‘Punk'd.’”

WWD reported that Eele is planning a forum on African-American designers and their careers in New York this month.

But the highly personal choice of one’s fashion designer isn’t the most objective foundation on which to base any call for racial solidarity. Clothes are the one of the most personal expressions we have to show ourselves to the world. The politics of race and ethnicity can’t hold a candle to what feels right, or doesn’t, when you put it on.

The designer B Michael seems to have gotten it right in his own statement about the issue, published in WWD:

“I understand their sensitivity and respect their right to express it,” he said. “I personally believe it is an unfair expectation to place on the First Lady. Fashion is subjective and a matter of personal choice.

“As an American designer, I am excited that Mrs. Obama, in her role as the First Lady, will heighten the awareness of American style, which resonates into business and jobs in the fashion industry. I applaud Mrs. Obama for her style and her choices. Most of all for wearing what really matters: dignity and grace.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

> Subject: First lady Michelle Obama wears Chinese designer Jason Wu's dress on the cover of Vogue magazine while most Chinese in China think blacks are Devils.
> > It's really tragic and sad that America's
> first
> > black first lady would choose to wear and continue to
> > support a designer from a country (China), that thinks
> all
> > black people are "black Devils", many
> Chinese also
> > avoid sitting next to black people on city buses, many
> > Africans suffer the indignity of being quizzed by
> Chinese
> > that believe that Africa is a primitive place that
> lacks
> > modern cities and transport,there is also official
> Chinese
> > police harassment where Africans are evicted from
> living in
> > rental apartments after Chinese residents complain to
> the
> > police of "the black devils making too much
> > noise", Taxi cabs will not stop to pick up
> Africans
> > claiming that they might be cheated and signs on
> public
> > buildings where Africans live in China read "you
> have entered an area that
> > is under 24 hour security surveillance".
> > All of this horrific information about chinese-black
> > relationships can be found in an African magazine that
> was
> > passed out during fashion week in NYC at
> > www.arisemagazine.net search "The Eastern
> Promise" pages 75-79.
> Last week the NY Post newspaper owned by Rupert Murdock and
> his Chinese wife Wendy Deng ran a cartoon of President Obama
> as a monkey killed by the NYC police department.

> >
> >Question:
> Why would a black woman, America's first black first
> > lady continue to support a designer from a country
> that
> > think black people, African people are primitive and
> > monkeys?
> >Question:
> Why would an Ivy league educated black woman choose to
> > educate her black daughters about J.Crew, before she
> > educates them about legendary black designers like Mr.
> > Arthur McGee and Mr. Scott Barrie?
> > Black Artists Association NYC first presented these
> > questions to the fashion media and we were mis-quoted
> in a
> > WWD newspaper article written by Rosemary Feitelberg
> with silly quotes like "We are the world",
> "Kumbaya" and "It was our moment", and
> > threaten with DEATH and attacked on the streets of NYC
> for
> > asking "why America's first black first lady
> is not
> > wearing or supporting black designers?"
> No one in the black media/blogs fact checked the WWD story
> before attacking BAA or Amnau Eele.
> > After 232 all white American presidents, 232 all white
> > American first ladies and the 232 all white designers
> that
> > dressed those 232 all white American first ladies,
> > "CHANGE" came for everyone on JAN 20, 2009
> in
> > America, except the American black designer.
> > Black Artists Association look forward to presenting
> these
> > questions and the sad stories of the hatred on the black
> media/blogs that were directed BAA's way to the White
> House and the people of D.C. at our
> > first " Washington, D.C. Fashion forum" in
> April
> > 2009.
> > At this forum , BAA will announce the winning black
> designer
> > or black design student that will have a chance to
> dress one
> > of BAA's artists that is up for an Emmy nomination this
> year
> > in L.A. CA.
> > At Black Artists Association we hope to demonstrate
> the
> > TRUE definition of "CHANGE".
> >
> >
> > Thank You,
> > Black Artists Association