Controversey Over Essence Magazine’s New White Fashion Director

Mediabistro announced that African-American magazine Essence recently hired a white fashion director, Ellianna Placas:

Placas, who used to work at O: The Oprah Magazine and US Weekly, will apparently make her debut in Essence’s 40th anniversary issue, on newsstands in September. Although Essence has been looking for a fashion director for quite some time, not everyone is happy with their newest acquisition.

Michaela Angela Davis, former fashion editor of Essence and former editor-in-chief of Honey Magazine, revealed on her Facebook Wall, “It’s with a heavy heart I’ve learned Essence Magazine has engaged a white Fashion Director. I love Essence and I love fashion. I hate this news and this feeling. It hurts, literally. The fashion industry has historically been so hostile to black people–especially women. The 1 seat reserved for black women once held by Susan Taylor, Ionia Dunn-Lee, Harriette Cole(+ me) is now-I can’t. It’s a dark day for me. How do you feel?”

Over 90 people responded to Angela’s statement. Comments ranged from, “DARK,” “Disappointed,” “Essence sold its soul a long time ago,” and, “It’s a sad day for young black women everywhere,” to, “Who’s to say she won’t do a phenomenal job at paying incredible homage to Black female beauty?I wouldn’t write this person off based on race, alone. I *would* be curious to hear more about context – background, past work, and upbringing, even. But based on that single thread of data, I am not upset.

Michaela went on to say, “It is personal..its also professional. If there were balance in the industry, if we didn’t have a history of being ignored and disrespected…if more mainstream fashion media included people of color before the ONE magazine dedicated to black women “diversified” it would feel different. There is one precious seat at the fashion shows that says Essence the magazine for black women. When asked, “What is your unique perspective for black women?” How is that answered? Even if they got Anna Wintour herself (which editors inside Essence assure me she is NOT) it still would hurt. From a brand perspective there should be a unique lens through which information is filtered…at Essence it is believed that filter is black, female..connected through shared history and soul…I believe we’ve not come far enough for this move.” She added, “It’s the lens, the filter in which the fashion is seen that is difficult. It’s the hope that is through the black imagination and soul our image is projected. We were charged with elevating the black designers and searching for who’s got next and yes Tracy Reese seems to be a lone princess sometimes. My heart breaks as you hope this is the place that would nurture and create black (female) fashion talent on all levels, editors, stylists, designers, photographers, incubator for black talent.”

My thoughts? As a black publication Essence should, as Michaela said, make pains to stick to its original mission of being a magazine created for and by black women. The inside should reflect the outside–which means that a black fashion director would be ideal. We do have our own way of interpreting trends, and that authentic spirit is best relayed by someone from the community. That said, we also must take into account that Essence is a for-profit business owned by a national publishing company, Time Warner. Perhaps they hired Elliana to help them appeal to a broader demographic? Perhaps Elliana was just too good to pass up? Or perhaps Elliana has proven that her vision is profitable. In publishing, the only color that really matters is green.

I’m assuming Essence did a thorough search, though there are so many editors I can think of who would have been perfect–Sydne Bolden Long (fashion editor of In Style), Memsor Kamaraké (former fashion director of Vibe), Chiona Nnadi (fashion director of Paper Magazine). Heck, why not even Michaela herself?

What do you think of this debate?

Spotted @ Clutch & Facebook


Claire Sulmers is the publisher and founder of Fashion Bomb Daily, the #43 most influential style magazine in the world.

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