spring fashion 2018

The Breakthrough Women of Artist Deborah Roberts

Left: Dress by Duro Olowu at ikram.com. Right: Dress by Duro Olowu at duroolowu.com.

The artist Deborah Roberts creates multimedia collages concerned with the challenges faced by black women and girls. “I think all girls, but in particular black girls, start to question their own ideas of beauty when they’re around 8 or 9,” Roberts says. “Black society is a matriarchal society. We assert our independence much earlier because we have to. These girls are powerful and vulnerable at the same time.”

Roberts’s work combines found and manipulated images merged with hand-drawn and painted details. “My ideals of race and beauty were shaped by and linked through Renaissance art and photographs in fashion magazines. Those images were mythical, heroic, beautiful, and powerful and embodied a particular status that was not afforded equally to anyone I knew.”

For this project, Roberts, who frequently creates images of young girls, used more adults than she usually does — Rihanna’s eyes, Michelle Obama’s arms, and Issa Rae’s hands, among others. She calls these subjects her “breakthrough women” and imagines them as the future of the girls she typically depicts. “These women, they broke through!” she says. “They told Misty Copeland she was too short, too old. She broke through! Rosa Parks sat down and didn’t get up. She broke through!”

We also asked Roberts to work with clothes from the spring collections — while she’s a fan of texture and pattern and color, the fashion world was new to her. “I’m not necessarily a big fashion person,” Roberts says, “but I know that the way young black people wear clothes has always influenced the trends. But me? I’m a pen-and-pencil girl. This is my way of mark-making.” – Amy Larocca

Dress by Giorgio Armani at saks.com. Earrings by Dolce & Gabbana at 717 Fifth Ave.
Dress and top by Hermès at hermes.com. Jeans by Loewe at bergdorfgoodman.com. Sneakers by Loewe at farfetch.com. Earrings by Giorgio Armani at armani.com.
Sweater, top, and skirt by Miu Miu at miumiu.com. Earrings by Dolce & Gabbana at 717 Fifth Ave.
Bodysuit, skirt, and necklace by Dior at 21 E. 57th St. Shoes and socks by Fendi at fendi.com.
Coat, top, and shorts by Prada at 575 Broadway. Earrings by Nirav Modi at niravmodi.com.
Top, skirt, and collar by Junya Watanabe at Comme des Garçons, 520 W. 22nd St. Earrings by Paloma Picasso for Tiffany & Co. at tiffany.com.
Dress and tiara by Dolce & Gabbana at 717 Fifth Ave.; earrings by Nirav Modi at niravmodi.com.
Dress by Céline at 870 Madison Ave.
Dress by Fenty Puma by Rihanna at puma.com. Tiara and earrings by Dolce & Gabbana at 717 Fifth Ave.

*This article appears in the February 5, 2018, issue of New York Magazine. 

The Breakthrough Women of Artist Deborah Roberts