(photo: Model Aamito Stacie Lagum modeling Marc Jacobs at the designer’s Spring 2016 show).
by Eric Darnell Pritchard (photo credit (above): Hannah Thomson via vogue.com)
From Venus and Serena Williams and Gigi and Bella Hadid, to Solange Knowles and big sister Beyonce, and Jessica and Ashley Simpson, we have learned time and time again that sisters who slay together, stay together. This a photo essay dedicated to another dynamic duo: The Quann Sisters.
At the recent 2015 CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund Awards, a number of fashion luminaries took to the red carpet serving opulence, fierceness, elegance, and of course, luxury. A standout among the crowd at the awards, and in fashion, style and music generally, are Cipriana Quann and TK Wonder/Takenyah “TK” Quann, known affectionately to many as “The Quann Sisters.” The pair, as a result of their red carpet looks, made it onto yet another best dressed list wearing gorgeous ravishing purple (TK) and green (Cirpriana) Ohne Titel dresses to the awards event. The sisters have long been among my personal favorites in the style world, and thus their fierceness on that night was no surprise to me (or anybody else, really). As I said of Grace Jones in a recent post, The Quann Sisters too epitomize the fierceness, beauty, brilliance, and courage that is a “black girl arrogance” that deserves praise, as they are defining genius, sophistication, and style against the grain and on their own terms in a world that has not and does not always celebrate Black women and girls.
Cipriana is founder and editor-in-chief of the lifestyle website Urban Bush Babes. TK is a musician (check out her music video “Van Gogh”) and a contributing writer for her sister’s website. The sisters, Baltimore natives, reside in NYC and in recent years have been featured in a number of print and online publications including the venerable fashion institutions Vogue and W Magazine, respectively. Both have done much to educate people about the importance and beauty of natural hair care via their writings and visual archive as they also model as well, and are represented by IMG.
Here the Quann sisters had the following to say about their view of fashion:
“Fashion to us tells your personality, it speaks to who you are inside. I mean, some people may say style is superficial, but I think there is so much more to fashion than just appearance. Women find confidence in the clothes that they wear, so we find there is something very empowering knowing what works for you. ” – TK Wonder
“My twin and I have always been into fashion. We always joke and say in the womb we were best friends.”
– Cipriana Quann
What follows is a photo essay of the slay-age known as The Quann Sisters, who are amassing a virtual archive of photographs that will sure to be favorites in the fashion and style histories written by the future:
And now that your edges are all snatched and collected into little dime bags, do know that your hair will only be redistributed back to you in said bags with receipts that you have read and shared this photo essay. Also, as I am sure this photo essay will leave you wanting to see more of the Quann Sisters putting in that WERK!, you can follow them on Instagram: @ciprianaquann and @tk_wonder.
By Dominique Michelle Davis ( photo credits: Law Agyei; [photo below only]: Dominique Michelle Davis)
Earlier this week we posted here my review of the 2015 African fashion Week-Chicago show that had the splendid theme “The Art of Fabric.” The following is an interview between I conducted with Christianah Ajanaku, the founder of African Fashion Week-Chicago. Our meeting took place at the Virgin Hotel located in downtown Chicago. Although we experienced minor distractions from childhood temper tantrums, we had a delightful discussion complimented with delicious food from Miss Ricky’s restaurant.
Dominique: This was my second year attending African Fashion Week – Chicago (AFW). Wow! Huge transition. How did you decide to produce and launch AFW?
Christianah: I’ve always had a love for fashion. It played a huge part in my roots growing up. I’ve always been in love with colors and fabric. There are African Fashion Weeks all over the country and the world and I thought it was time for Chicago to have something like that. We have so much talent in this city. I was waiting for somebody else to do it… I thought I would just be a volunteer to show up and help out, but I noticed there was a void and when no one did it… I just did it!
Dominique: So how did you get your team together?
Christianah: The first year I pretty much did everything on my own. I pretty much knew everyone that I worked with, but this second year I targeted people to choose from their strengths and finding people with the same passion that I have.
Dominique: How did you choose this year’s theme, “The Art of Fabric”?
Christianah: “The Art of Fabric” was the theme for Friday night’s event and kind of set the tone for the weekend to showcase fabric, where does fabric come from and how it is used.
Dominique: I saw a variety of fabric in the garments for the collections. I think that was pulled off very well. What do you think makes AFW-Chicago unique?
Christianah: I think we incorporate music and art, which is different from other runway show. We had Nola Ade, amazing performer.
Dominique: Who was your favorite designer/collection for this year’s show?
Christianah: I don’t know if I can answer that. I truly loved them all.
Dominique: As I’m sitting here and listening to you speak. Something just struck me. You are a trailblazer. You’ve created something that does not, or has not existed in the city of Chicago. Have you stopped to take that in?
Christianah: No, not really, I just do it… because it needed to be done. I know that our shows are different, and that’s what I strive for, to create an experience.
Dominique: Now that African fabric has been embraced by mainstream, what are your thoughts about that?
Christianah: I think it’s exciting. That’s another reason why we chose the “The Art of Fabric” as the theme for this year’s event. Even though it’s mainstream, I want to educate people on where the fabric comes from and it’s more than just fun and [aesthetically pleasing], a lot of history goes into making these fabrics. So, I think that’s important for the audience to know and learn… I mean, everything is being called African fabric now, and its just not. People like Stella Jean have made African Fabric really popular. Beyonce and Rihanna wear a lot of her work.
Dominique: Educate me. What is the difference between true African Fabric and something that just looks like African Fabric? How can a person not well versed tell the difference?
Christianah: Let me say, for example, there’s a fabric called Adire. I’m Nigerian, and this is a fabric from my culture. There’s so much history in this fabric and something that not a lot of people use now. There’s a new material called Ankara, it’s African and used a lot in Africa but actually originates from Switzerland. …We didn’t do a lot of marketing around the education piece. We missed an opportunity to provide that educational aspect as well.
Dominique: What has been your biggest challenge, and where do you see AFW going?
Christianah: The first year was gaining awareness. We didn’t know what to expect, which was our biggest concern. Once we knew that we could attract the crowd it was a challenge to continue to build and grow to make it bigger and better each year. It’s a lot of pressure, because I always want to do better than the previous year. I eventually would like to see this become a weeklong event. Next year will probably stay three days.
Dominique: One thing that I’ve noticed in Chicago is duplication of services and products. How do you stay focused on collaboration to minimize duplicating services and build your network?
Christianah: I’m really big on collaborating. I want to meet people. I feel like the purpose of AFW is beyond me, it’s to benefit other people. It’s not to bring shine to myself it’s to bring shine to the designers. I don’t believe in creating unnecessary competition. I don’t believe in competition, I don’t bring it into the things that I do. I believe in staying in my own lane.
Dominique: What advice would you give to designers, entrepreneurs, people trying to get into the field?
Christianah: There’s a lot of chaos that goes into [things], but I love the chaos, that’s why I do it. If you’re interested in doing something, especially if you’re creative…just do it! Do the research, do as much as the legwork you need to do and just do it.
Dominique: My last question. How else are you involved in the community, or other civic work that you may be doing aside from AFW?
Christianah: Eventually, I’d like us to grow into an organization that gives back. We’re still trying to figure out the logistics of how we see AFW creating a space to give back. Right now, we’ve created an opportunity and space for people to show their work and network, but I’d like for us to continue to work on developing a platform to give back.
If you’re interested in following Christianah and AFW, please follow them on Twitter @afwchicago or visit the website afwchicago.com.
by Eric Darnell Pritchard
This Grace is sufficient. Maybe she inspired you to become more flexible so you, too, could bend and contort yourself into a scene of “Island Life.” Or, perhaps she hula-hooped you into a trance, moving the cylindrical toy around her waist as she, mic in hand, belted out one of her popular songs. It could very well be her legendary beauty – her fierceness piercing the still life of every photo she has taken, or her masterful, delicious storytelling in her recently released memoirs. In whatever incarnation you encountered Grace Jones, you, like me, are likely to have gotten your life, or multiple lives because Grace slays you and you are reborn. Grace is reincarnation.
Grace Jones represents the very best of so many aesthetically sublime and delicious possibilities and realizations for global fashion and popular culture. In addition to her album covers, music videos, and fashion editorials, she is etched into our minds through so many other moments: her role of eccentric fashion model Strangé in the 1992 film “Boomerang”; any one of the many photos of her live performances in her decades long career, such as a 1987 performance where she collaborated with artist Keith Haring for her stage costume; and her memorable runway walks such as at the Summer 1988/89 Patrick Kelly show in Paris, where she walked the runway dressed in a black bathing suit and cape adorned with an applique of neon stars and planets, red tights, a bustle of individual scarves of various colors hanging from her waste, and a hat with a long white ponytail hanging out of the top. In each of these moments and so many more, the camera shutter opens and closes on her to fulfill the promise, play, and pulchritude of every single image she has created. Her visual and performance archive is always embodying and emboldening the radical potential of fashion, music, dance, performance art and photography for exploding the neat boundaries built around race, gender, sexuality, time, and space from one moment to the next. Grace is divine.
The icon and iconography of Grace Jones emerges as a clear archive of Black girl arrogance in all its fashionable fierceness and intervention. Black girl arrogance refers to both a spirit and embodiment of intelligent, beautiful, desirable, fierce daring that Black girls and women represent – whether on the runway or in the streets, in the classroom or the boardroom, at the piano or behind the podium – that makes their presence known in a social, political, cultural context or milieu that would rather render them unknown. It is thus at times an organic way of being, and in other moments a chosen tactic, that is always and already for one’s self. Sometimes that arrogance is refusing the gaze and living one’s life, and still other times it demands of you, “see me.” The fact that anyone else gets to witness this divinity is, well, grace. And I return to Grace Jones here to give her the respect she so deserves, but also because it is through returning to Grace that I believe Black girl arrogance, in all of its complexities and genius, is re-membered for now and for what is to come.
For instance, Black girl arrogance has once again been made legible at the intersections of fashion and style with television, film, and music. We saw it just recently in Emmy-nominated actress and transgender activist Laverne Cox’s stunning photos in Allure Magazine, and in her many other moments including her picture on a 2014 cover of Time Magazine. We see it in Academy Award-winner Lupita Nyong’o’s boundary breaking and trendsetting beauty and glamour, which has completely raised the bar for red carpets all over the globe. We see it in Solange Knowles’ epic wedding photo, which flooded our Facebook newsfeeds, Twitter timelines, and Instagram pages with panoramic shots of gorgeous Black women adorned in radiant ivory gowns, and effecting the etherealness of any dream we wish would come true. And where Solange leaves us dreaming, big sister Beyoncé made “I woke up like this” the mantra of every bold and brilliant person ready to declare that who I am and how I am is already “Flawless.” The 2015 “Black Girls Rock” award show that aired on BET and Centric offered numerous examples of Black girl arrogance as intervention in many of the speeches including those by singer Erykah Badu, educator Nadia Lopez, FLOTUS Michelle Obama, Dr. Helene Gayle, and actress Jada Pinkett Smith. What about Rihanna’s recent performance of “Bitch Better Have My Money” at the #iHeartRadio Awards? The performance included many elements of power moments from the archive of Black women international pop star performances, from Lil’ Kim’s green wig and furs in the video for her 90s hit “Crush On You” to Diana Ross’s epic exiting of the superbowl halftime show in a helicopter that descended on the stage to whisk her away (also reminiscent of Grace Jones’ Strangé’s epic arrival in “Boomerang” via helicopter, and then a chariot driven by men). Here Rihanna’s daring is part of a continuum in her performances of Black girl arrogance, including her homage to Josephine Baker on the occasion of the legendary performer’s birthday at the red carpet of the 2014 CFDA Awards, where Rihanna was clad in a transparent bosom bearing silver beaded gown and bejeweled headdress. For Black women performers and Black girl arrogance, the archive and the ancestry matters. Grace matters.
It is imperative to note the historical antecedents for Grace Jones – the eccentric freedom of Eartha Kitt, the elegance and sophistication of Lena Horne and Ruby Dee, and the beauty folk ways of Maya Angelou and Cicely Tyson most come to mind. Another historical antecedent that demonstrates Black girl arrogance, and laid important roots for Grace Jones to later help define and then defy boundaries around Blackness and femininity, appears in the wonderful documentary Versailles ’73: An American Revolution. The documentary examines the legendary battle at Versailles fashion face-off between five American and five Parisian design houses, a tale examined in greater depth in the new book The Battle of Versailles: The Night American Fashion Stumbled into the Spotlight and Made History by Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan. Among the points made by several of the interviewees that appear in Versaille ‘73, including legendary fashion model and editor China Machado, fashion historian Barbara Summers, and fashion and beauty editor Mikki Taylor, was that the success of the American presentation at that show was the presence of Black models Norma Jean Darden, Pat Cleveland, Bethann Hardison, and so many others, whose walk of “affirmation” to quote Taylor, was what set the American show apart from the Parisian set.
While Taylor’s observation about the impact of the Black models affirmative stance is in itself a rich one to engage, I look at that moment, at Grace, and the intersections of fashion and identity and submit that amongst the gems that Black models brought (and still bring) to the runway was something that is actually in excess of “affirmation”: Black girl arrogance. This Black girl arrogance, though embedded in the very movement and being-ness of the Black models at the ’73 show at Versailles is so missing from the runways of today’s fashion shows in the lack of racial ethnic diversity, as rightfully noted in the 2014 open letter of protest authored by Hardison, and models Iman and Naomi Campbell. A black girl arrogance that haunts us when we remember the days of fashion past, and are reminded of the disappeared characteristic of personality that was once an essential ingredient to the development of a signature walk and presence on the runways for any model, Black or otherwise.
I am convinced that whether or not uniqueness and personality were ever embraced, Grace Jones would still be who she was and is. What other way was there for her to be? Still, in the way that she pushes us beyond our comfort zones, and shows us what it means to create a path for one’s self through an ethos of having no fucks to give, the existence of Grace Jones and all she has meant is priceless. Here’s hoping the next era of fashion and popular culture will applaud and embrace these moments of productive defiance like the Black girl arrogance revival of which I write, on the runways, in ad campaigns, and at the head of design houses and fashion magazines. Clearly television has received the memo, as evident in shows headed by defiant, brilliant, Black women are at the top of the ratings and lording over the zeitgeist of popular culture, from Kerry Washington’s portrayal of Olivia Pope on “Scandal” and Gabrielle Union’s Mary Jane Paul on BET’s “Being Mary Jane,” to Viola Davis’s multilayered Professor Annalise Keating on ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder,” and most recently, leading the pack is Taraji P. Henson’s critically acclaimed and popularly adored Cookie Lyon on Fox’s juggernaut “Empire.” It is the very thing that seems to revive the very lifeblood of this global industry and persists in fashioning a future. No matter what, Grace Jones, her predecessors and descendants will carry on being their fierce self. They woke up like this.
(clockwise, top left: Olivier Rousteing, Tracy Reese, Carly Cushnie, Stella Jean, B Michael)
by Eric Darnell Pritchard
Yesterday, I shared a commentary in which I argued that Black designers are not appearing on lists of designers who would be potential replacements as creative directors at historic ready-to-wear and haute couture houses, and specifically Dior and Lanvin after the sudden exits of Raf Simons and Alber Elbaz, respectively. In a social media economy in which name recognition and visibility matters, and given the continued shifts among creative directors at the top houses, it is imperative to provide some direction for a future leader of Dior, Lanvin and the historic fashion houses to come who may be looking for leadership, and are invested in considering many of the very talented Black designers for such a position. Certainly this list risks becoming yet another among the long and ever growing wish lists of potential creative directors to be considered, but as this list centers the qualifications, contributions, aesthetics, and promise of Black designers exclusively and deliberately so, and as argued in a previous commentary Black designers rare (if ever) appear on such lists, this is a much needed addition to the usual list of those being considered. Also, I was to stress that these are my personal five favorites for the job, and stress that there are many, many other Black designers who have everything it takes to get the job done:
A rising star in fashion, the Milan based Jean is a favorite of fashion critics including Franca Sozzani editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia, and fashion critic Suzy Menkes. Jean’s feminine, pretty aesthetic is very much so in line with that of Dior and Lanvin’s own design codes. She also has a European fashion sensibility in her clothes that would be appreciated by haute couture die hards.
With nearly two decades of experience of making glamorous gowns to order, B Michael would bring the skill set a historic house of haute couture would be looking for to fulfill this responsibility of the position. He also has an already impressive roster of clientele who come to him for custom made garments including Halle Berry and the Williams Sisters, and this would be a built in client roster Dior and Lanvin would be used to and continue to court.
Cushnie, one half of design duo Cushnie Et Ochs, is known for women’s wear designs with the hallmarks of strength, passion, sexuality as central themes of her work. Trained at Parsons School of Design, and a former assistant in the design studios of American designers Proenza Schouler, Donna Karan, and Oscar de la Renta, the London born Cushnie’s designs for Cushnie Et Ochs have been wor on many red carpets by celebrity clientele, including Rihanna the current face of Christian Dior.
A favorite of FLOTUS Michelle Obama (above), Reese has almost twenty years of experience heading her own fashion label. Reese’s designs are known for their traditionally feminine flourishes, and bold use of color and print, both of which would be a good match for the visual vocabulary of Christian Dior or Lanvin.
The reigning fashion king of social media, Rousteing has managed to make Balmain a “must see” show during Paris Fashion Week, not only for his sexy, modern, and edgy designs, but also for a runway show front row of attendees who are also friends such as Kanye West, Kim Kardashian – West, and Rihanna, while supermodels Jourdan Dunn, Joan Smalls and Kendall Jenner all stomp the Balmain runway each season. Just this week, Rousteing launched “Balmain x H&M” a one off collaborative collection bringing the luxury retailers aesthetic to the department store H&M and its more affordable price point. His current successes would give Dior or Lanvin attention from a generation of luxury brand consumers who would grow with the label.
Who would be on your list of potential replacements as creative director at Dior or Lanvin?
Valentino followed very impressive Fall’15 collection with equally gorgeous one for Paris Fashion Week, Spring/Summer 2016. I liked the cornrow hair look selected for the show, and want to especially highlight the Black models for the show given this cultural origin, though the show did feature it on all models as well.
Nevermind the naysayers. Behold the intellect, talent, excellence, perseverance, courage and beauty of Black women. Congratulations to Uzo Aduba, Regina King, and the history making Viola Davis on their Emmy wins. And congratulations to all of their, OUR ancestors and elders who’ve worked so hard for us to have a night like last night. Yes, there is work still to do. Viola Davis’ speech said as much, and he fact that she is the first in 2015 to win this award says as much. But, dear hearts, there is also joy. Today is about joy. Set any negative comments aside.
The J Mendel show was modern, chic, and romantic. These are three of my faves from this show.
To be draped in these deliciously, vibrant looks by Christian Siriano. The drama of it all! Ravishing!
“I said no initially, thought about it, and said no again… But I’m a black transgender woman. I felt this could be really powerful for the communities that I represent. Black women are not often told that we’re beautiful unless we align with certain standards. Trans women certainly are not told we’re beautiful. Seeing a black transgender woman embracing and loving everything about her body might be inspiring for some folks. There’s a beauty in the things we think are imperfect. It sounds very cliché, but its true.” – Laverne Cox on her photo in the new Allure magazine which features five actresses posed nude in an editorial. Laverne is beautiful, amazing, trailblazing and spot on with her assessment imposed aesthetic hierarchies she speaks of with regards to representations (or lack thereof) of transgender women and Black women and I just adore her, and I appreciate that she acknowledged the difficult decision making involved in deciding whether or not to do the shoot given all of the historical, political, and representational stakes for Black and transgender women. And kudos to Allure for this important intervention.