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Fashion Roundtable: An Interview with Three Leading Black Fashion Journalists

QUESTION: WHAT ABOUT MORE BLACKS COVERING FASHION?

Bernadine: Robin, were you surprised to get the call from Vogue?

Robin: I think highly of myself, so I wasn't surprised but the lack of autonomy there did surprise me.

Constance: I was at Talk for a year. It tried to be a little different which was part of the problem. Tina (Brown) wanted real reporting, but it was a start-up magazine and it had to woo advertisers. She tried to walk that line and have both.

Marilyn: Is it true that Anna Wintour exerts influence on what you wear when you work at Vogue?

Robin: I have been asked that so many times. I sat down with Anna for breakfast and everybody asked me, "What did you wear?" not "What did you say? or "What did she ask you?" Well, I wore a skirt, motorcycle boots. There was no point in trying to be Vogue. I felt I'm not a fashion personality but a journalist. I'm not a size 4. My assistant had more pairs of shoes than I've ever seen.

Constance: We can do a better job of integrating the industry. It's suspiciously still very white bread. You can go into a fashion gathering and be one of a handful or the only dark-skinned person in the room. And same can't be said of say the music industry. We're getting used to seeing blacks in powerful roles in music. This is not the case in fashion. As a fashion journalist, you're an arbiter. I think there's still a prejudice and a lack of sophistication about seeing a black person as a gatekeeper of style.

Just the fact that you pulled this roundtable together, shows progress. but I fear one step forward, two steps back. I'm disturbed by the number of black fashion journalists dropping out, ( a reflection of the growing number of black journalists declining across the board, according to recent reports). Monique Greenwood, Roy Campbell, Darlene Gillard Jones are three from the fashion family who have moved on to other areas and I question: Why?.



QUESTION: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE OFF-BEAT COMMON PRACTICES IN THE FASHION BUSINESS?

Constance: When you're a journalist at a major newspaper, the pressure is huge. The jockeying for gifts, it's unbelievable. You cannot understand it unless you've experienced it.

Bernadine: Geoffrey Beene has been quoted as saying advertisng and money dictate fashion. True?

Robin: I deeply hope it's not true. Fashion exists so there are beautiful things to buy and sell.

Teri: It has always been that way. Dior and Balenciaga, they sold clothes.

Constance: Even if you're a celebrity designer, it doesn't work after the initial puff of celebrity if the clothes, the goods aren't there.

Vivian: How much of a part does the cult of personality play in getting a designer coverage and success with the press?

Robin: This is not so different from any other industry. Someone who has a charming personality is going to get the benefit of the doubt. The person who slams the door, you remember that down the road.

Bernadine: Here's another Geoffrey Beene quote. "Fashion is in a terrible state--an overdose of too much flesh."

Robin: When is fashion not in a troubled state? Okay, there was an aberration in the 1980's when Christian Lacrois did clothes that were incredibly costume-y. They cost a fortune but people were buying them.

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