racial issues

Another European Fashion Magazine Makes Uncomfortable Generalizations About ‘Black Style’

A 2008 cover of French <em>Elle</em>.
A 2008 cover of French Elle.

Nathalie Dolivo, a writer for French Elle, wrote a blog post last week on the topic of “black fashion power,” which has since proven quite controversial. A translation of the piece from French reveals that Dolivo seems to have misinterpreted a recent Times article and used it as dubious precedent to argue that refined trends in “black style” are thanks solely to the Obamas’ sartorial influence: “For the first time, the chic has become a plausible option for a community so far pegged [only] to its streetwear codes.”

Dolivo then refers to the “black-geosie,” such terminology presumably necessary because the she believes the traditional definition of “bourgeoisie” can only apply to white folks.

But if in 2012 the “black-geoisie” has integrated all the white codes [of fashion], they [do so not] literally. [There] is always a classic twist, with a bourgeois ethnic reference (a batik-printed turban/robe, a shell necklace, a ‘créole de rappeur’) reminiscent [of] the roots. It [has] shifted, [it is] new, desirable, powerful.

Dolivo concludes her article on a positive, albeit totally bizarre note, suggesting that such a “black style,” in its originality and visual spectacle, is a welcome antidote to the current economic woes across Europe. Much unlike the denigrating tone in that now-infamous article discussing Rihanna’s sense of style published in Dutch magazine Jackie last month, there’s the impression that Dolivo is attempting to celebrate the “trend” at hand.

Of course that doesn’t excuse the misguided and prejudiced perspective she’s presenting. Comments on the article have argued as much — and more, in 246 comments and counting. Here’s just a sampling:

“How, in 2012, in a France where there are at least three million blacks and mixed people, can you write such nonsense? You are too kind when you write that in 2012 we have incorporated the white codes … what do you think, in 2011, we dressed in hay and burlap bags?”

“The person who wrote this article is very limited, both culturally and intellectually. The sad part is that it really has the feeling of being positive. [Ms. Dolivo] I think you should travel a bit more and broaden your horizons.”

“Your article is a very poorly written, but it perfectly reflects your state of mind. Fashion has no boundaries or color, and it’s a terrible admission of failure to see that [French Elle] can be reduced to such amalgamsBlack women are beautiful and elegant, [and do] not need magazines to tell us what to wear, we dress with taste and class and we have always done! This article is nothing but a bunch of clichés, without any interest or informative journalism Thumbs down!”

Picking up on the article’s outdated stereotypes, Fashion Bomb Daily writer Claire Sulmers notes, “the truly flustering passage [is] when she attributed black modern dress to white dress codes, then ventures to say we ‘afro-centrize’ our looks with shells and ‘boubous’. Some of us do, some of us don’t. We are not one monolithic group to be written about like zoo animals. I. Just. Can’t.”

Unfortunately, as long articles in this vein are still being written, the resulting outcry (and educational process it represents) will remain necessary.

French Elle Awkwardly Comments on ‘Black Style’