So the big triumph for Africa in the fashion world came out of this season’s Paris Fashion Week where for the first time in its 163-year history, Louis Vuitton cast a black model to open its show.
As Janaye Furman stepped onto the runway, she made history for the prestigious fashion house on the Parisian catwalk.
A delighted Furman, who is African-American, took to Instagram to write about the experience: “What a blessing! Wow! This is such an incredible and unbelievable moment! Not only for my first opening show to be Louis Vuitton, but to make history as the first African-American girl to open LV?!!
“Thank you God and everyone! I’m so glad more women of colour are rocking the runways. It’s so important that we stand up for ourselves and make a difference in this world. I’m so happy I was able to tell this beautiful story. I mean look at that coat!”
While progress towards diversity in the fashion world has been slow, things have come a long way since the outrageous, avant-garde Jamaican singer and actress Grace Jones was a solo figure modelling in Paris for designers such as Yves Saint Laurent back in the ’60s.
She was followed by the unforgettable Somali-born beauty Iman, discovered while at university by photographer Pete Beard.
Iman landed her first job for Vogue in 1976.
Then came Naomi Campbell in the late ’80s and the ’90s, establishing herself among the top three most-recognisable and in-demand models of the time, and one of six declared supermodels by the industry.
Around the same time, another Somalian, Waris Dirie, who fled an arranged marriage and eventually ended up in London. She was discovered in the late ’80s and covered the Pirelli Calendar in 1987, subsequently going on to model for Chanel.
A decade later, an 18-year-oldSouth Sudan national, Alek Wek, was spotted at an outdoor market in London and literally turned the fashion world upside down with her distinctly African appearance. Modelling for a number of top labels, including Chanel, Moschino, and Christian Lacroix, she too went on to gain supermodel status.
After these exquisite catwalk
pioneers forced the doors open, more and more black models have managed to step onto the runways of the world.
But this was particularly striking at this month’s Paris Fashion Week where virtually every top designer featured black models along with others of various ethnicities.
Simply cast your eyes across the labels represented on this page.
As for the fashions themselves, there was perhaps less diversity.
The overwhelming emphasis was to be sure, on femininity, with a dash of cheeky irreverence on the side.
Soft pastels, nudes and florals were in abundance for flowing dresses, some of them oversized, some of them so delicate they could almost be sleep-wear.
But the fashions were not confined to what one wit described as the “garden look”, referring in particular to Sarah Burton’s designs for Alexander McQueen.
There was also the occasional nod at high seas with nautical jackets or embossed trench coats.
And for the eternally chic, there an striking offering of black and white – as evident in Louis Vuitton’s summer range and the clean lines of Altuzarra.
This was coupled with a tongue-in-cheek mixture of leisure or sportswear in the softest of fabrics – evident in Furman’s pale blue shorts – complemented with uber fashionable snazzy running shoes.
Clear plastic shoes and thigh high boots were also on show – a reflection of the waterfalls that inspired Karl Lagerfeld this season.
Lagerfeld, who took over the house of Chanel a decade after Coco Chanel’s death, has faithfully sought to maintain her particular style and elegance.