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When the first fashion magazine appeared in 1672 in France there was no chance that a black person would appear on the cover. Before this only royalty focused on fashion and it remained that they were the driving force behind the publication. There was a glimmer of hope for a black influence in fashion when the first black model, Dorothea Church, made her début in 1949. Yet magazines still didn’t put black women on the cover until November 1954, when Dorothy Dandridge became the first black woman to appear on the cover of a magazine by herself when she appeared on Life Magazine’s cover. Still at this time there was little black influence on the fashion industry.

The first black fashion magazine cover didn’t appear until January 1965, 293 YEARS after the first fashion magazine began publication, when a sketch of Donyale Luna appeared on Harper’s Bazaar, she later was the first photographed black woman on the cover in March 1966 when she appeared on British Vogue. It was at that time that the doors were opening for black women in the fashion industry. Shortly after Donyale Luna did her magazine covers, Beverly Johnson and Naomi Campbell also appeared on fashion magazine covers. Today it seems like some of the most well known supermodels of the past are black: Tyra Banks, Iman, Naomi Campbell, Beverly Johnson, and Tyson Beckford (have to represent the men, too!), however there was still a long way to go for a strong black influence in the fashion industry.

Veronica Webb made history in 1992 when she was the first black woman picked up by a major cosmetics company, Revlon. This started a trend of make-up development to include all skin tones. Then, further steps were made in April 2008 when Lebron James became the first black male to grace a fashion magazine cover (not even Tyson had done this!). This cover was highly controversial though and some say it did little more than belittle black men. However, the fashion world was bouncing back when July of 2008 had two groundbreaking things. Toccara Jones became the first black plus sized woman on the cover of Vogue Italia and Vogue Italia also had the first ever All Black Issue, which sold out of print twice! It seemed like finally members of the black community were getting represented in fashion.

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All this history makes the events of June 12-20th in Johannesburg, Africa that much more important. Those dates mark the first ever annual ARISE Africa Fashion Week. This is when fashion gets a black makeover. Dr. Precious Moloi-Motsepe, chairperson of African Fashion International, says, “At AFI (organizers of the Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban Fashion Weeks), our mission is to take African fashion to the world. In fulfilling this mandate, I take enormous pleasure in launching the inaugural Arise Africa Fashion Week. This event affords the regions’ creative economy with a world-class opportunity to showcase to a global audience. This is the first step in ensuring that the region receives the benefit of its own creative intellectual property, history and culture.”  She also sees this as the “…triumph of fashion over ethnicity and cultural difference.”

With 51 designers from 21 countries participating, this is creating history. This is the very first African fashion week and it is set to become an annual event, travelling around Africa each year following the 2010 showcase. There is no doubt it will become the must-see event in the fashion calendar on this continent. Dr. Precious Moloi Motsepe says Africa has long been a muse for the arts throughout the world, most recently in fashion, with the world’s top designers choosing to look towards African techniques, designs and materials to ensure that their collections appeal to a wider global audience.” ARISE Africa Fashion Week allows the world to see authentic African fashion, directly from the source.

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The importance of this show can especially be felt in Africa, where the economic downturn has had a large effect and also civil unrest still takes place in various countries. For Africa, this industry provides about $4.3 billion and accounts for 20 percent of the total formal sector employment in South Africa. The industry creates job opportunities and also provides people the opportunity to showcase their culture and heritage. The hope is that this financial addition to Africa can help stimulate change. The ARISE Africa Fashion Week seeks to unify all the fashion industries of Africa to create a powerful, unified African fashion industry.

With the importance these fashion weeks have on the fashion industry, we hope to see a new influence and a booming black influence on the fashion market. I know in the upcoming days we will have our eyes on what is shown there. This is history in the making and definitely something you won’t want to miss out on.

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