Philip Treacy is a world-renowned milliner whose hat designs have perched upon the heads of royals among other luminaries. In a move that startled fashion-watchers, he recently made the unusual move of sending 25 black models down the runway for his Spring 2013 presentation during London Fashion Week. That’s right — Treacy showcased his outlandish hats with an all-black cast.
He stated that, “The show was a homage to the African woman and their sensibility to dress up,” in an interview with The London Evening Standard.
Treacy’s intentions may have been respectful, but had the air of being a gimmick. Lady Gaga, also a known provocateur, opened the show before the black models took center stage, setting her above them in her distinctness, while they blended into each other anonymously.
Unfortunately, this move stirs up the chilling stereotype that “all black people look alike.” Inviting the fashionable set to gawk at these models wearing masks, feathers, and alien-like head protrusions seems less than celebratory of “the African woman” under those circumstances. It seems to recast black women as society’s “other” yet again: strange and unglamorous, curious but not beautiful — just like the Hottentot Venus.
Another element of note was the Michael Jackson theme of the model’s clothing. Correction — this was not a theme. Apparently, the models were actually wearing Michael Jackson’s old clothes, on loan from a former associate of the late icon.
“Mad Hatter Philip Treacy put… Lady Gaga on his chapeau runway and dressed his black models in Michael Jackson’s authentic costumes which will be auctioned off in December,” The Hollywood Reporter confirmed.
Bizarre. Using black women as a motif as they parade in costumes made famous by yet another overwhelmingly impressive personality can’t help but further erase some element of their humanity.
Despite all this, perhaps this eye-catching, mind-bending mix of pop stars, black women, and funky hats hit just the right note. Treacy’s show is certainly gearing up to be one of the most talked about at London Fashion Week, adding oodles of chic currency to his already beloved brand.
Plus, Treacy’s use of blackness as an element of style sends a message the world of fashion needs right now, regardless of his intent.
After New York Fashion Week just closed by repeating yet another season replete with underrepresation for models of color, it’s uplifting to see an important designer give black models headline-grabbing work. They deserve it. Hopefully more will come their way under less sensationalistic circumstances.
What do you think? Is Philip Treacy’s use of black models pure hauteness or haute gone horribly wrong?
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.