New York Fashion Week kicks off with black models running the show

theGRIO REPORT - Artists, celebrities, and designers may use their fame and fortune to support various foundations and causes but Canadian fashion house Obakki goes above and beyond...

It’s not always common to find people of color being celebrated in the fashion industry, whether it’s on the runway or behind the scenes, but we found a special presentation to kick off the start of New York Fashion Week 2012.

Artists, celebrities, and designers may use their fame and fortune to support various foundations and causes but Canadian fashion house Obakki goes above and beyond.

The lights were bright as the elevators opened up to a stunning midtown loft and terrace on Tuesday evening which set the stage for a unique presentation. Models ran around backstage as the lineup was called before any guests were allowed in, but we got a sneak peak at the prime and prep for the Fall 2012 line of Obakki which had a special twist; an addition of South Sudanese models paying homage to the roots of this line’s inspiration and noting the country’s difficult history. Models prepared to dazzle down the runway with a natural sun-kissed look, all with their hair pulled back allowing everyone in attendance to pay close attention to the intricate details of each piece.


Field Inspiration F/W12 from Obakki on Vimeo.

The Obakki line, previously featured in Vogue, Elle, and InStyle magazines, is able to tell a story through their exquisite pieces and also brings together hope for a nation of people. This Fall 2012 line showcased a variety of styles with a wide range of colors that could transfer from day to nightwear. Treana Peake, creative director and founder of Obakki decided that she would fuse her philanthropic ways and talents as a designer to give back to the people of South Sudan and humanitarian efforts all over the world as she created her line. She followed this up with the launch of the Obakki foundation, a non-profit organization created to provide clean water and educational services for the people of South Sudan. Through the foundation, all proceeds go directly to helping finance water wells and better living environments for the people of South Sudan, a place where she says her heart still is.

The highlight of the show was that the designer casted several south Sudanese models to strut down the runway as well as being joined by Sudanese hosts on the floor including, Mari Malek a 2011 BET Black Girl’s Rock Nominee, who like many of these South Sudanese models arrived in the states as a refugee. Peake’s vision included hosting and embracing these tall, black, and beautiful Sudanese models that many other designers would never even think of. “It’s so frustrating to be in a house where my roommate has ten castings, and I only have one,” said model, Nyamuoch Girwath.

Peake is not Sudanese, she’s not even black. But that doesn’t matter to her, or the beautiful models she cast, who all seemed to adore the proud designer. Peake confirms that she believes in the power of what fashion can do so she decided that she would use the growth of her line and do something she is passionate about. Her goal is for “people who want to have really high end beautiful contemporary fashion, but care about where the money is going. Through the sale of this collection, we’re able to continue to drill water wells in the very region that inspired it.”

theGrio: How did you choose these specific models?
Treana Peake: Every South Sudanese girl that walked in the door, I passed, without even caring how they walked, I didn’t care. I thought you know what, I’m drilling wells in their regions, a lot of them very close to their hometowns and I wanted them to be a part of it, they are the inspiration, and so I don’t care if they fall down that runway, you’re in it. They thank me for including them in it, but say this is you.

What are your thoughts on using African themes and backgrounds as a trend with white models as the forefront?
I took all of the South Sudanese girls out to dinner the night before and we talked a bit about that and it’s frustrating for them because they have a lot of limitations in this industry. They have these hearts that carry a lot of the things that I look for in people and I think that makes them even more beautiful and they’re stunning so I say I want one of you to open and one of you to close and three of you to be on the floor with me. So it does bother me, if you’re going to reference a certain area, then use the girls that come from there. If I was referencing Norway, I’m not going to throw in some South Sudanese girls. If I could have had 25 South Sudanese girls, I would have cast them all.

Will you be using this theme and continue to feature South Sudanese models?
Oh yeah. I have the most amazing story for next season because a lot of these people fled during war and haven’t been back. The Spring Collection will be inspired by a dying cattle camp culture. Within 10, 20 years that culture will no longer exist. I plan on going with a photojournalist and bringing some of the girls home to do the editorial shoot with a historical documentary angle. Taking the photo journalistic documentary world and fusing it with the fashion world.

What do models of color bring to the fashion industry?
They bring diversity, it’s all about what I stand for, it shouldn’t matter what the color of your skin is, bringing everybody together, regardless of your skin color is what it’s all about. They have their beauty, their strength, and they are unique.

Finally, after asking What piece describes Treana, she pointed to two beautiful custom prints that remind her of Sudan and said, “My heart and soul and mind and everything is still in Sudan”