Fashion and Race: "The Racialized Body and Fashionability"

By Parsons School of Design

Curated by Kimberly M. Jenkins

"The Evolution of a Strange Fruit" (dress) (2018) by Lashun CostorParsons School of Design

This section of "Fashion and Race: Deconstructing Ideas, Reconstructing Identities" interrogates the elaborate, pseudoscientific methods that were introduced in the 18th and 19th centuries to elucidate human evolution, including the Western encounter of the Other. Ultimately, the social construct of “race” was designed to discern difference, citizenship and, in the context of this exhibition, fashionability. The artists featured here reconsider and disarrange the antiquated rubric of fashionability, using construction and illustration to address or correct racist notions of the Black body.

"Red Dashiki Prom Dress" (2015) by Kyemah McEntyreParsons School of Design

This replica of Kyemah McEntyre's "Dashiki Prom Dress" (made from cotton in Angelina print) garnered widespread media attention in 2015. McEntyre's use of the iconic Dashiki print aims to build a sense of community throughout the African Diaspora with a nod to the Civil Rights Era, signaling self-determination.

"Beauty can be self-defined and cleavage can be powerful. Using striking red, a European 17th century cinched waist and a billowy skirt visually tells the story of colonization and its effect on the identity of African people."

–Kyemah McEntyre on the power of a prom dress

"Black Beasts" (lace front bomber and fur chaps) (2018) by Carly HeywoodParsons School of Design

Carly Heywood's collection, "Black Beasts," analyzes the speculation, exploitation, and animalization of the Black body throughout history. By interrogating the construct of race, "Black Beasts" channels the complexities of Black American rage, grief, and fear of racial violence.

The bomber jacket (made from wefts of curly human hair) and the chaps (made from Icelandic sheepswool) exaggerate the historical racial identifier of hair texture as a key physical attribute of the "Black Beast" character–a tactile representation of animal versus human.

"Hood Dandy" (fashion ensemble) (2017) by Katiuscia GregoireParsons School of Design

"Hood Dandy" researches the complicated aesthetics and politics at work in the depictions of African-American men in the post-Civil Rights era. The collection examines and merges the attitude of the carefree 1970s and the stereotypical tropes of the late 1980s/early 1990s emerging hip-hop scene."

–Katiuscia Gregoire

"The play on pattern and color through knitwear (made from bamboo and cotton yarns) pays homage to the eclectic 1970s while the over-sized silhouette (supported by belts crafted from Ultrasuede) and headpieces (a durag) symbolize key elements of 1990s hip-hop fashion."

–Katiuscia Gregoire

"Hood Dandy" (look book image) (2017) by Katiuscia GregoireParsons School of Design

"'Hood Dandy' aims to provide new imagery inspired by the Black male identity, one who possesses qualities beyond the stereotypes posed on him. This ensemble, as the entire collection, is also aimed to shrink gender boundaries in dress."

–Katiuscia Gregoire

"The Evolution of a Strange Fruit" (dress and headpiece) (2018) by Lashun CostorParsons School of Design

"The Evolution of a Strange Fruit" is a defiant presentation of Black womanhood, haunted by
the violent history of the Jim Crow era. Conceptualized and designed by Lashun Costor, a red satin gown is fortified with canvas understructure and crowned with a horned headpiece (from wenge wood), co-designed by the Italian 3-D design firm, 3DW.

"The Evolution of a Strange Fruit" (dress) (2018) by Lashun CostorParsons School of Design

"This wearable sculpture evokes the historical trauma of the institution of slavery, yet challenges the stigma and commodification of Black women’s bodies."

–Lashun Costor

"The Evolution of a Strange Fruit" (headpiece) (2018) by Lashun CostorParsons School of Design

"'The Evolution of A Strange Fruit' is about the experiences and contributions of Black women in American society to create a collective understanding of our struggles and perseverance."

–Lashun Costor

"Hair as Identity" (zine, mounted) (2012) by Jamilla OkuboParsons School of Design

Hair and hair styling is also considered part of the racialized body, with its outgrowth representing a divisive signifier of one’s
identity. In this context, Jamilla Okubo’s zine, "Hair as Identity" reproduces derogatory images as well as historical rhetoric that has been normalized in beauty advertising to describe Black hair. Okubo grapples with this history by inserting positive affirmations to confront dominant narratives.

"Hair as Identity" (zine, page 1) (2012) by Jamilla OkuboParsons School of Design

"Hair as Identity" (zine, page 2) (2012) by Jamilla OkuboParsons School of Design

"Hair as Identity" (zine, page 3) (2012) by Jamilla OkuboParsons School of Design

"Hair as Identity" (zine, page 4) (2012) by Jamilla OkuboParsons School of Design

"Hair as Identity" (zine, page 5) (2012) by Jamilla OkuboParsons School of Design

"Hair as Identity" (zine, page 6) (2012) by Jamilla OkuboParsons School of Design

"‘Hair as Identity’ zine explores the connotations of Black hair, Black women’s experiences with natural hair, and how Black hair is constantly seen as a form of identity in America."

–Jamilla Okubo

Credits: Story

This concludes Part Two of the exhibition, "The Racialized Body and Fashionability." Part Three, "The Intersection of Race and the Gaze in Fashion Photography" can be viewed here, and Part One, "Deconstructing Ideas, Reconstructing Identities," can be viewed here.

The exhibition pursues a critical reflection of race through creative practice and is based upon the elective course, Fashion and Race, taught by Kimberly M. Jenkins from 2016-2019 at Parsons School of Design. Topics explored in the course include, but are not limited to: how the body is racialized, how the concept of race has influenced aesthetics in fashion and art history, how material culture and style is appropriated or misrepresented, and how the business of fashion comes to terms with race.

This exhibition was curated by Kimberly M. Jenkins and made possible with support from the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, Parsons School of Fashion, and Parsons School of Art and Design History and Theory.

The curator wishes to thank the following contributors for their insight, support, and resources:

Sheila C. Johnson Design Center staff:
Christiane Paul, Kristina Kaufman, Daisy Wong, Daniel Chou

Exhibition interns and graphic designers:
Fatima Coulibaly, BA Culture and Media ‘21
Allison Esannason, BFA Fashion ‘19
Karla Maria Dipuglia Perez, BFA Fashion ‘19
Manasi Vashi, BFA Communication Design '20
Daveed Baptiste, BFA Fashion '20

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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