MILAN (AP) — The Milan Fashion Week that opens Wednesday is showcasing collections by perhaps its most ethnically diverse lineup of designers, including the debuts of the new creative directors of Salvatore Ferragamo and Bally and the return of Haitian-Italian designer Stella Jean after a two-year hiatus.
But Jean and other industry insiders behind a campaign to open the Italian fashion world to talent from minority backgrounds say true inclusivity remains elusive.
Jean, who debuted in Milan in 2013, pledged on the heels of Black Lives Matter protests not to return to Milan Fashion Week as long as she remained the only Black designer represented. This week, she won’t be.
Maximilian Davis, a 27-year-old British fashion designer with Afro-Caribbean roots, is making his debut as the creative director for Salvatore Ferragamo. Filipino American designer Rhuigi Villasenor is bringing Bally back to the runway for the first time in 20 years. Tokyo James, founded by British-Nigerian designer Iniye Tokyo James, is presenting a women’s-only collection.
Jean said the real shift that persuaded her to return to the Milan runway was the work of the We Are Made in Italy campaign, which she launched in 2020 with Milan-based African American designer Edward Buchanan and Afro Fashion Week Milano founder Michelle Ngonmo.
Jean is scheduled to headline a runway show with Buchanan and five new We Are Made in Italy designers, including a Vietnamese apparel designer, an Italian-Indian accessory designer and an African American bag designer. It is the third WAMI group to present their collections in Milan.
“We are making ourselves felt,’’ Jean told The Associated Press. “We invited all these young people. We created the space. There have been gains.”
Among the 2-year-old campaign’s successes: Both Trussardi and Vogue Italia have used WAMI’s database of fashion professionals of color who are based in Italy, although the listings have not been employed as industry-wide as the founders hoped. One of the designers from the first WAMI class, Gisele Claudia Ntsama, has worked in the design office at Valentino.