Luxury fashion’s love of hierarchies has never been subtle. Telling people what they should look like often also requires telling them what’s unacceptable: To spend money on feeling better, people first need to feel bad. For decades, the industry tolerated nearly no dark skin, fat bodies, wrinkles, or outward indications that a person wasn’t summoned from the recesses of a French executive’s brain and manifested directly onto the banquette at a SoHo restaurant. Any criticisms, the industry shrugged off.
Suddenly, though, it’s the worst time to be peddling European elitism since the French Revolution. As the United States has roiled with soaring unemployment, mass death, and protests against racist state violence, fashion has had to contend with accusations that it long refused to dignify with a response. In June, Yael Aflalo, the CEO of the popular sustainable-fashion brand Reformation, and Leandra Medine Cohen, the influencer behind the style website Man Repeller, both left the companies they founded after their employees accused them of racism and classism. Vogue’s longtime editor in chief, Anna Wintour, was recently forced to apologize to her workforce for the publication’s decades of racism in a bid to keep her job.