“It Be Your Own N****s!” LaQuan Smith’s Validity and Authenticity as a Designer Challenged By SHOWstudio Moderator
Image Credit: SHOWstudio
The fashion industry has a problem with criticism as it pertains to speaking critically about the impact of designer collections.
This problem becomes even more apparent when critiques are made in reference to collections from black designers, more so when talking about the significance of their contributions in the fashion industry. Oftentimes, these types of conversations extend further beyond just noting whether or not the clothing is good or well designed or modern enough. They require more nuance and a true understanding of the ways in which the designer will experience navigating the industry in ways vastly different from their counterparts.
Image Credit: YouTube
The latest in unfortunate critiques came from a live panel discussion hosted on the London-based digital fashion platform SHOWstudio, discussing LaQuan Smith. Four fashion industry professionals in a video entitled “Is LaQuan Smith Worth The Instagram Hype?” joined moderator Karen Binns to dive into the significance, relevance, authenticity and validity of Smith as a high fashion, luxury designer. In the video posted to the platform’s website and YouTube page, the moderator managed to allude to the New York-based designer pretending to be an artist and reduced his brand to designing ratchet, stripper pole clothing for the woman who is too dense to understand the landscape of high fashion “but wants to feel like she does.”
Strap in because we’re just getting started!
The moderator, a black woman herself, used this [white] platform to challenge LaQuan’s validity and significance as a luxury designer. She reduced him to a designer that makes clothing for “girls who want to have sex after they leave the club.” She referred to his name and the choice to use his government name for his label as “a very ghetto thing unfortunately” and proceeded to call the choice brave and that it sends an important message. Comparisons were made to Off-White designer Virgil Abloh with claims that they serve the same “urban” customer who doesn’t know much about fashion and is too dense to understand. According to Binns, the Queens native and designers like him stifle and get in the way of the designers that are supplying the demand of the “consumers who are a lot more in touch with what’s going on and aware of where fashion needs to go” because the aforementioned are supplying the “Cardi B consumer;” she also alluded that the brand of design that LaQuan achieves is akin to the amount of design that went into the Cardi B x Fashion Nova collaboration. LaQuan’s authenticity and legacy was challenged with the claim that “his collection will not change or inspire a new generation towards being a lot more authentic as a designer,” pointing to the work of Patrick Kelly in the ‘80s as a more valid example of authentic design. Too much time was spent weaponizing the video vixen, the female rapper, the party girl, the hot girl, the woman who’s sex positive and words like ghetto and ratchet, painting the picture that these women and descriptors commonly associated with blackness have no real place in fashion. It was alluded that this collection showed no real evidence of artistic ability like a collection from Lee McQueen. However, it showed that Smith is able to tap into trends, pretend to be artistic and skate by in the industry by playing a good business game. Binns states that part of the problem is that “people have a fear of talking about a black designer,” but of course she will pick up that mantle because she “understands what they’ll go through, the negativity they receive, the box they’re put in too constantly but that he is exactly in that box they want him to be in—the guy who make clothes for the girl on the pole.” This is a notion that needs to be defied because “we are more than pole dancing and having sex and becoming a rapper’s girlfriend.” Lord, help us…
Two things that the fashion industry has always been are elitist and racist. What is so enraging about the perspective shared on the SHOWstudio platform is that the comments were rooted in the same hateful attitudes that have limited access to black people in fashion and, most notably, came from a black woman. The tone for the almost hour-long conversation was set from the beginning. The moderator’s comments were so elitist and hateful; it was disgusting to witness. To see a black woman refer to LaQuan’s name as ghetto AND unfortunate on that white platform told me everything I needed to know about how the rest of that video was going to go. The anti-blackness jumped out so quickly, and THAT is the truly unfortunate part.
Image Credit: Vogue Runway
LaQuan Smith is a black designer who has made it very clear who he designs for: black women! The vision for his design aesthetic is rooted in femininity and sexuality. The LaQuan Smith woman knows and understands fashion, luxury, design and trends. & even where that may ring untrue, black women are the ones setting the trends and making the real impact on fashion. They are the ultimate muse. To dumb down and insult the LS customer is a blatant slap in the face to all the fashion enthusiasts and fans of his brand, not to mention celebrities like Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian or Rihanna. Framing the image of women who have sex or are strippers or video vixens or hot girls or ratchet as a stain in the fashion consumer landscape adds nothing productive to the conversation and reeked of anti-blackness. Using these descriptors in an attempt to prove that this consumer, lifestyle or aesthetic are unworthy or something to turn your nose up at only made it evident the antiquated, disgusting attitude the moderator felt in regards to blackness and black American culture.
Image Credit: Vogue Runway
The comparisons made to Off-White and Cardi B also showed how uninformed the moderator was. She claimed that LaQuan Smith and Off-White serve the same “urban” woman. One, let’s lose the coded language. & two, those two customers aren’t the same by a long shot. The comparison to Cardi is conflating two different scenarios that don’t go together. Cardi (with the help of Kollin Carter and her team, branded herself as a fashion girl and budding style star to watch) used the collaboration with Fashion Nova as a money move—and a smart business move at that, especially thinking about the direction fashion is going in and pushing out Instagram-friendly clothing. It was a great opportunity for Cardi, but this fashion and design is LaQuan’s livelihood; the two simply aren’t the same.
& the mention of Lee McQueen could’ve been omitted entirely because the differences in resources and access are a very real thing. You also can’t compare the career of one of the most influential and legendary designers to that of LaQuan's—one that’s still being lived out in real time.
So much more space is given to white designers to be mediocre, uninspiring and present IG-friendly collections, but black designers are expected to carry the labor of being legendary with every single presentation. This latest collection from LaQuan was labeled “nothing groundbreaking” by one of the panelists. PLENTY of other white designers’ collections are the nothing special, but these same conversations aren’t being had about them. It’s hard enough for black designers to be taken seriously and break through in the fashion industry. LaQuan has managed to make a name for himself and garner attention for his brand, staying true all the while to his original vision for almost a decade. He has sustained visibility and earned his following, every word of praise, endorsement, and collaborative opportunity that has come his way. It would be so much more helpful if there weren’t another black woman trying to diminish his work and the foundation he has built.
Image Credit: Vogue Runway
The moment where I just had to laugh to keep from flipping my laptop was when the moderator spoke to knowing the hardships that black designers will face in the industry, and it is with that knowledge that she is able to critique designers like LaQuan in the way that she does. The way that she spoke about LaQuan, his authenticity as a designer, his customer, his relevance and whether he was deserving of it didn’t feel constructive. To say that his collection won’t inspire a new generation to be more authentic designers (along with challenging his design aesthetic that has brought him success thus far) could lend the idea that she isn’t concerned with the importance of visibility. If the plight of the black designer is one that is understood, why, as a black woman, contribute further to that hardship? If you don’t like the clothes or the aesthetic, just say that and go! Don’t reduce the work that’s been put in and make unfair comparisons to have a hot take or unpopular opinion. The nerve, the tactlessness, the commitment to ignorance—you really do hate to see it!
I will always stan and champion black designers. Whether you like the clothing or the designer or not, there is always room to have a real conversation while celebrating the impact of their visibility and determination in this industry that we all love and hate, depending on the day.
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