To celebrate Black History Month, we’re looking back at some of the most influential (and stylish) black men and women in fashion history. Admittedly, diversity and inclusion hasn’t always been the industry’s forte, but (thankfully) times are changing and lots of that change can be credited to the individuals on this list. So, whether it was through their boundary-pushing personal style, admirable attitude or pioneering contribution to conversations about race, gender and sexual norms, here’s our roundup of five black role models who changed the world of fashion forever and continue to inspire us today…
1. Grace JonesJamaican-born Jones was a major triple threat who made waves in fashion, music and film. In fashion, many of her looks played with racial norms and subverted conventions of gender. She boldly championed the type of oversized androgynous suiting which we are still loving today – see her sharp-shouldered look on the cover of her 1981 Nightclubbing album for reference. But more than anything, it was her fearless persona and unapologetic attitude that stands out as so iconic. When it comes to personal style, this is something we could all learn from…
2. Naomi Campbell
I think we can safely say that this roundup wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the great Naomi Campbell. Alongside Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford and her BFF Kate Moss, Naomi was one of the OG international supermodels of the ’90s. In 1987, she was the first black British model to grace the cover of British Vogue and the first black model to appear on the cover of French Vogue in 1988. To top it off, she’s a generous philanthropist too! She launched Fashion for Relief back in 2005, which holds an annual charity catwalk each year in aid of a global cause, and launched the Diversity Coalition Campaign in 2013 which addresses racism in fashion.
The worlds of fashion and music have always been closely intertwined and Prince is the perfect example of this – he’ll be remembered as much for his extravagant personal style as he will for his innovative music! Dressed in all types of avant-garde ensembles including ruffled unbuttoned blouses, stockings, elaborate lace gloves and cuban heels, Prince boldly challenged rigid ideas of masculinity whilst simultaneously solidifying his reputation as one of the greatest sex symbols of all time. As we continue to grapple with gender conventions and constructs in the present, we should remember Prince as one of the first and most iconic trailblazers of gender fluidity.
4. Michelle Obama
As the first black First Lady in history, there were a lot of critical eyes on Michelle Obama. Like the royals in the UK, there are unspoken style regulations that women in these positions have to adhere to: Michelle Obama said herself “as a black woman, too, I knew I’d be criticised if I was perceived as being showy and high-end, and I’d also be criticised if I was too casual”. Ultimately, Michelle Obama nailed it. She showed the world that she could mix luxe fashion house garments with high street classics and proved to be the chicest first lady since Jackie Kennedy. Plus, she played a huge role in boosting the careers of a diverse set of homegrown American designers from the more established Jason Wu to relative newcomers like Tracy Reese.
5. Edward Enninful
When Edward Enninful succeeded Alexandra Schulman as Editor and Chief of British Vogue in 2017, he set out to make the magazine inclusive and brimming with the excitement it exuded in the ’70s and ’80s. Since then, the Ghanaian-born editor has celebrated cover stars of all body types and from diverse ethnic, cultural and social backgrounds. An article Vogue published earlier this year shows that his changes have had a noticeable impact: the magazines print circulation has increased by 1.1% since 2017. Of course, with only two years of leadership under his belt, it’s still early days. However, standing at the helm of one of the most authoritative media voices in fashion, Enninful will no doubt change the industry forever.