Pioneer African designer Joy Meribe opens Milan Fashion Week representing the We Are Made In Italy, Fab Five project .
By Violeta Nanutti / News Contributor
ROME— Afro-descendant fashion designers showcase their creations at the Milan Fashion Week officially launching the new project Fab Five by We are Made in Italy (WAMI), where Joy Meribe was selected to open the week with her Spring/Summer 2022 collection during a six-day preview starting Sept. 22.
Born and raised in Nigeria, Meribe said that opening the Milan Fashion Week was a dream come true. When the show finished, she broke down in tears thanking the fashion council and the WAMI founders for getting her to the runway, as AP reports.
The Fab Five We Are Made in Italy is part of the Black Lives Matter Fashion in Italy (BLMFI) and is supported by the Black-led non-profit association, Afro Fashion Milan. This year, the project also received the support of Condé Nast. The WAMI initiative behind the Fab Five is the first official BIPOC board of the Italian Fashion council @cameramoda, founded in 2020 by a trio of designers and advocates for Black fashion in Italy:
Stella Jean: Italian-Haitian, Rome-based designer and founder of Stella Jean Roma fashion brand.
Edward Buchanan: African American founder and artistic director of the sansovino6 Milano fashion brand in Italy.
Michelle Francine Ngonmo: Cameroonian designer and founder of the Afro Fashion Week Milan, founder and president of the Afro Fashion association in Milan and Cameroon and leader of WAMI. Ngonmo lived in Italy since she was very young. She has a degree in Audiovisual, Multimedia communication, and a specialist degree in Foreign Languages. Currently Ngonmo is director of All-TV and president of the African Students Association in Ferrara.
The late fashion designer Virgil Abloh had also supported the project. Abloh was an artist, architect, civil engineer, the founder of the fashion brand in Italy, Off-White and the creative director of Louis Vuitton Men.
As of today, WAMI plans to showcase the work of five Black fashion designers each year.
The 2021 Fab Five are: Claudia Gisele from Cameroon; Senegalese fashion designer Pape Macodou Fall; alias Mokodu; Burundi-born Frida Kiza; Karim Daoudi from Morocco; and Joy Meribe from Nigeria.
WAMI selected Meribe as the feature designer to open this year’s Milan Fashion Week. Meribe has been part of the Afro Fashion association since its inception six years ago. She is one of the designers that presented a collective digital show during the Milan Fashion Show of 2020. Meribe is currently working on her Autumn-Winter 22/23 collection.
Meribe said that she has always loved fashion, but her family wanted and expected a university degree from her—so that is what she did first. After graduating in Foreign Languages and Literature in 2003, she got her MBA in Reggio Emilia and eventually decided to go to fashion school at the Istituto Burgo circuit in Modena and Bologna to study pattern making and fashion design. In 2017, Meribe founded her brand, originally calling it Modaf designs and changing the name to Joy Meribe in February. In 2018, her brand became an official business in Italy where she lives full time.
“WAMI was created with a precise goal: to fight for concrete, not just theoretical, inclusion, contrasting all types of racism and working towards an actual recognition of the contribution that BIPOC creativity can give to fashion,” writes Veronica Constanza Ward for the September cover by Vogue Italia.
In 2020, Jean launched the campaign, ”Do Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion?” to urge fashion brands to hire more black artists and decided not to participate in the 2020 Milan Fashion Week, according to a BBC interview. Listen here.
Jean said that she had been hearing the voices of the Black Lives Matter Movement in the United States, while in Italy she perceived these voices were still seen in a negative light by many.
Buchanan and Stella wrote a letter to Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI) questioning if “Black lives matter in Italian fashion” and addressing the lack of inclusivity in Italy. Since then, Buchanan said the future looks optimistic, and if anyone can make a change it will be this generation to do it.
“While what they are doing is so beautiful and so good, the question that I keep asking myself is why they were they not recognized before,” said fashion designer and JCU alumna, Lenora Biche from Bamenda, Cameroon. “I have misgivings about the way the media makes certain things look because those things should have been looked at from the beginning.”
Biche also owns her own company since 2020: Lenora’s Confident Closet. Her job is to help CEOs better express themselves and their brand by using fashion to make them feel confident.
JCU’s Fashion Club President and senior International Affairs major, Lara Asoli, said there is a significant lack of representation of other cultures in Italian Fashion. Asoli said that she was not familiar with the WAMI to the Fab Five, but after hearing about their work, she said that what they are doing is amazing.
Last year, the Fashion Club presented a fashion show with the JCU African Culture Club, showcasing clothing curated by the African club members.
Asoli said a goal for the upcoming fashion show in April 2022 is to have the involvement and participation of other cultures again.
The Photo Vogue Festival this November included conversations on diversity in Italy, where one of the main subjects presented is a discussion on Afro-descendants in Italy and decolonization.
Further reading and related content
These Boss Ladies Are Taking Over Italian Fashion at MFW, by VOIR fashion
Black, Creative and Collaborating Across Generations, by Business of Fashion
Stella Jean Sees Progress on Race in Italy as Companies Move Beyond Masked by ‘Corporate Colonialism,’ by WWD
Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion, by AFROSARTORIALISM- A research project on African fashion digitalities
SS22 Milan round up: Ed Buchanan on old guard vs. new guard, the Perfect Magazine
Virgil Abloh, Creative Genius Whose Vision for Fashion Transcended Boundaries and Crossed Into Art, Has Died at 41, by Artnet