"Revolution. That's all there is to it. We need a total social revolt."
My name is Louis, I'm a fashion columnist, a writer, someone who yells too much on the internet, who criticizes sometimes... I don't know, I always hated this kind of question, like "who are you?", because I feel so multifaceted that sometimes I forget who I am. The curse of our generation hahaha. I started in fashion as a PR manager in Milan, after I left the US and landed in Europe. I didn't know anything or anyone, which in all honesty wasn't really a hindrance because ever since I was a kid I was always that kid at school who got all the attention. So public relations was a perfect fit for me. But in the end, I didn't stay that way because I hate having to defend the vision of others. So now I am an art director for me and me alone!
Can you describe the current state of the fashion industry in regards to diversity, sustainability and transparency?
I think the fashion industry is just starting to wake up, after a long period of time where it's just made a few stabs at diversity, sustainability and transparency. I think the events of the last few months, with the way social networks have really mobilized behind these causes and the fact that people are no longer afraid to hold companies accountable, have really woken up the higher-ups in the industry. They've finally woken up to the reality, like "oh shit! People are really going to investigate and look at what we're doing and if we're not up to it, they're not going to support us anymore and we're going to lose money! So efforts are slow in coming at the moment because, for the first time, companies are realizing the monumental task ahead of them to really make a difference.
How did we get here?
We are where we are because the fashion industry has always been on a line where it was about creating aspiration, envy, not inspiration. Fashion has always been more about excluding - you have to be IN or you are OUT - than including everyone. As a result, what we have in the power structures are people who have never been challenged, who have always been surrounded only by people like themselves. This has created a very homogeneous environment. But fortunately, the outside world is winning the battle: the walls of the rear guard are cracking.
How did you become an activist? And what would you say to someone who thinks that politics is not for them?
Well, I didn't wake up one morning and suddenly say to myself, "Hey, what if I became an activist because it's so fashionable? I think that since I was a child, I've always been driven by strong convictions and I've always seen the world as it was. I am someone who has always wanted to be part of changing the world to create one where we could all be happy. I think working in fashion gives you the opportunity to make a difference on a more attainable scale. This industry is like a miniature version of the world. Maybe it's a training ground for me if I ever want to get into politics, who knows? For all those who think they don't have to get involved because politics is not for them, I would like to tell them that it's time to wake up. Everyone has a role to play in this. Politics impacts everyone, every facet of our lives. So if you don't want to get involved, don't complain that things aren't changing, because you are complicit in the stagnation of society.
Has finding work in the fashion industry been harder for you because of your activist profile?
Of course it was, but thank God I'm a freelancer and most of my assignments are for people who call on me because of my views. I think it would have been very difficult to be so politically engaged if I had been directly employed by a company, or if I had tried to work with more traditional media. Obviously I would have had to be careful about what I say. Many companies and brands don't like their employees or future employees to make too many waves. So lucky for me I'm self-employed now!
Recently, we've all noticed how politically involved the younger generation has become: spreading struggles on networks, raising awareness about different issues, especially during the black lives matter protests, which followed the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Yet, today we see less and less content on this topic, especially on instagram. So how can we keep talking about it? Are you afraid that the movement will fade away, that people and brands, especially influencers, will end up using it only for marketing purposes?
I'm a little sad to see how the topic of police violence on Black Americans, which had exploded in recent months at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement and the George Floyd story, is falling back. But the takeaway is that we need to work even harder and shout even louder. The people who continue to talk about it on social media are making sure that it's not just a fad, but that it's still an issue, that it's understood that we need to solve this problem. We need to continue to actively work on it. I think that when it became a buzz, it became, for a lot of people, just a passing trend on Instagram: the topic of the moment what. It became stylish to show your support for black people, black causes and black businesses. People wanted to look like they were engaged so they could better resume their usual feed the next day. What we need to do is not shine the spotlight on the big celebrities and well-known influencers who are content with commo stunts. Instead, we need to highlight the people who are at the base of the pyramid, the real activists. They are the ones you have to keep at the heart of the narrative.
I know you're in paris right now. What do you think of Assa Traore's fight against police violence? Many people, especially on tv, criticize her for transposing to France an American problem, as if it wasn't one here too. How would you respond to this accusation?
Honestly, I had no idea about the monumental problem of police violence in France until about a year ago, when my best friend among French influencers, Yoanne Mobengo, was attacked by the police for a false identity. He suddenly found himself in the middle of the fight against police violence and that's what made me aware of the story of Adama Traore. What Assa is doing in memory of her brother is truly admirable. Especially here, in a city as conservative as Paris. I think a lot of people decide not to support her because they don't want to face the fact that they are part of the system. Or even that they are complicit in it, in the sense that their passivity has allowed the situation to become as bad as it is today. So it is much easier for them to define it as extremist. What I would like to say to these people is that they cannot stand by and blame others and pretend that police violence does not exist in France. That's exactly what has made the situation so catastrophic in the United States. Because, for too long, people have turned a blind eye to it and pretended that everything was fine in the best of worlds.
Can you talk about racism in Italy? How does it manifest itself in Italian fashion?
Racism in Italy is so normalized that it has crept into every facet of the industry and society as a whole. There is a culture of ignorance largely perpetuated by the mainstream media and by politicians. You know, fashion is not immune to this mentality in Milan. You would think that in a big cosmopolitan city like this, the mentality would be more open. Unfortunately it's not the case. There is this backward mentality that permeates even the big cities and the whole system. The worst thing is that it is claimed. You only have to watch TV or other media to realize that what is considered the height of success in Italy is mediocrity. And when mediocrity is celebrated, society cannot progress.
Did you ever experience homophobia or racism there?
I've experienced both homophobia and racism, and often the two intertwined. Like, you get a racial slur and then a homophobic slur, all in the same sentence. That's what being a queer racialized person, a gay black person, is like in Italy. It's a very closed-minded culture. People think of difference as a weapon. They see it as a threat to everything they've ever known in their lives and it scares them. And people who are afraid do stupid and irrational things.
How can you scare intolerant people? Do you think they can change and become better?
I don't think intolerant people are afraid of cancel culture. And when I say "intolerant", I mean really hateful people. Not ignorant, hateful. They know very well what they are saying and doing and they are ready to face the consequences of their actions, whatever they are, because these actions reflect who they are, their deepest nature, they are in agreement with themselves. I think it's the ignorant people that we need to target. They can change, become better. They just need an experience that pushes them out of their little bubble and shows them that the world is bigger than they imagine.
What do you think about cancel culture? Is it always the best way to tackle intolerance?
The more time goes by, the less effective cancel culture seems to be, so I think we need to find new solutions that work better now. It's true that sometimes it's a lot of fun, but does it still have a long-term impact? Not really. We really need to build structures that make people accountable for everything they say and do. But for now all we have is a movement that "cancels" people, and the hope that it will make them realize that they're really not far off from screwing themselves with their words.
Brands like Mowalola and Telfar have been getting a lot of buzz lately. what impact do you think they can have on the industry as a whole?
What Mowa and Telfar are doing is changing history. They are fixing a broken and outdated system. It's so bold, and they don't care because they're visionaries. They don't want to keep feeding the status quo because the current status quo sucks! These brands are really laying the foundation for the new fashion industry. I think that brands that are careful about what they do and adapt their business models like that are going to be hugely successful, while those that don't are going to slowly go under.
How can we come together and be a society, uniting all minorities and their allies? And if fashion had a role to play in this, what would it be?
Well, for starters, I think that the different minorities need to work out the problems they have with each other. And most of those problems are rooted in relationships with white people. There is still a lot of mental decolonization work to be done. Then we have to work very hard with allies to make sure that we are visible and heard everywhere, that those in positions of power don't forget about us, but at the same time we build our own power structures. Fashion influences the way people perceive themselves. People look to it to know how to behave and what trends to follow. That's why fashion has to be a vehicle for change. It must show the world that there is nothing wrong with embracing a multicultural society, beyond its "aesthetic" value. It must show that beauty is not a one-size-fits-all model.
As consumers, do we have enough power to influence society? isn't it counterproductive if capitalists make us believe they are listening to us? how do we avoid the trap of becoming a mere cog in the "responsible consumer" wheel?
We have power, but at the same time, we don't have it. Consumers, by definition, consume. And they do so quite blindly. I don't think people want to wake up and actively influence society, because we've been brainwashed into being hyper narcissistic and selfish. And instant gratification feels so good. Maybe in the very distant future society will wake up, but for now, all we can do as individuals is make informed choices and educate those around us.
With Covid-19, natural disasters, climate change and social revolts, there are a lot of issues at stake right now and it seems like there is no time to dither. what is the best way forward? Do we have time to evolve or do we need a real revolution? And if so, what do you think would trigger it?
Revolution. That's all there is to it. We need a total social revolt. People act like they care about global warming, racism, etc., but it's very superficial, just because the media talks about it and it gives them an identity to seem to care. The revolution can't happen online, but for the moment, people are still convinced that it can, and that's a problem. A revolution means dropping our phones and diving head first into real life. But for many people, that's a scary prospect and they prefer to look at the world through an Instagram filter or a Twitter feed, it keeps them detached. The day there is no internet will be the first day of the revolution.
Finally, could you recommend some BIPOC companies to support in 2021?
Sansovino 6, Stella Jean, Brother Vellies, HANIFA, Romeo Hunte, LaQuan Smith, Telfar, MOWALOLA, Christopher John Rogers, Victor Glemaud