On Black Style: An Interview with Simone Aziga

Publié par le 22 octobre 2013

Simone Aziga is the Toronto editor for Ton Petit Look and a recent MA graduate from Ryerson University. In her thesis, she explored the idea of black style through street style photography. Turns out, there is no singular, homogenous unit which can be described as black style. This may sound like a given (it should be), but more often than not, people and groups end up in carefully defined boxes. The fashion industry has a particular knack for that. Here, Simone speaks of diversity in fashion and the role of blogs in challenging stereotypes.

How did you develop the idea for your thesis?

It all started when a friend of mine showed me the blog Street Etiquette. When I looked at it, my first thought was that I had never seen black men, especially young black men, dress with that kind of aesthetic and express their appreciation for fashion on a blog. It also got me thinking about people like Kanye West, Andre 3000 and others who have a distinct way of dressing that challenges the way black men are usually presented within fashion media. Then, I started a list of personal style blogs made by black people and fashion websites targeted at a black or multicultural audience that in my mind (re)defined blackness in fashion media.

From the blog Street Etiquette

Were there some pre-conceptions that you wished to challenge with this project?

That was the main basis for the project: challenging stereotypes and pointing to the progression of black style and blackness in fashion. I wanted to challenge the predominant narratives for black people in fashion media, most of which are negative or reductive. I was shedding light on a trend I had noticed in the fashion blogosphere in the past two years: black people who were using personal style to express themselves and breaking boundaries. In doing so, they were challenging the idea of black style as only hip-hop fashion or African-inspired fashion. Of course, those trends are a big part of the narrative of black style but it can mean much more than that.

Do you think black style is adequately portrayed in media and in fashion?

I think it’s obvious to anyone with a critical eye that the ways in which fashion media showcases diversity can be problematic. Fashion blogs have played a tremendous part in shifting how black style is portrayed. You could argue that they have given regular people the platform to reclaim ownership over representations of blackness in fashion and in turn, black style. In other words, while blackness and black identities have been defined through fashion related-imagery in one way, fashion blogs and the participants of this project have defined them in another.

Why is it important to you that black style be studied and explored?

I’ll admit the obvious by stating that yes; I am a black person who works in the fashion industry so I have a personal investment in this topic. As I become more immersed in the industry, it becomes more frustrating for me to accept the absence of nuanced representations of people who look like me. I realized that this project allowed me to contribute to the growing efforts to promote diversity in fashion, not just of race, but also of size, gender, etc.

How did the people that you photographed react to your thesis?

I think most people were flattered that I stopped them and told them that they had great personal style and I wanted to feature them in the project. Things got interesting during the interviews because I learned how people can perceive the topics I was investigating. Almost every participant had a similar answer when asked about the representation of blackness in fashion media; that it was a severely lacking and/or relied heavily on stereotypes. Almost every participant defined their style as an expression of their personality. All of them defined black style but struggled to align themselves with that definition. Out of 36 people, I only had one bad reaction so I guess that’s pretty good! I think he was annoyed that I was stopping him on his way somewhere more than anything else.

A page of On Black Style, Simone’s thesis project

What did you discover through your thesis?

I discovered that perhaps I was putting an intellectual perspective on something (race and fashion, race and personal style) that others (particularly the participants of this project) may not.

Do you have any plans to continue to explore black style?

The feedback for the final project has really been humbling. Everyone I’ve shared it with has had such kind words to say about. Because the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, I feel encouraged to keep doing it. I just need to find the time!

Head over to Simone’s website to scroll through the intimate and diverse portraits she took for her project.

Simone Aziga

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