It may not be the first time French fashion magazines have shown some bizarre racial attitudes — anyone remember the time Carine Roitfeld had Lara Stone do an editorial in blackface for French Vogue? But French Elle apparently decided it wasn’t totally over the line to publish a piece (since pulled) about how Michelle Obama has finally, at long last, turned black women into French-acceptable style icons. In the name of educating them, here are 10 black women with incredible high style, who were around long before FLOTUS made the national scene, elevating everyone from Jason Wu to White House Black Market:
1. Josephine Baker: The toast of Paris, Baker may have been more famous for the clothes she didn’t wear during some of her most famous performances, but she wore designer clothes off-stage, popularized a hairstyle and a hat style, and did it all while aiding the French resistance and aiding 12 adoptive children.
2. Billie Holiday: The flowers in her hair. The big necklaces and earrings. The comfort with her curves.
3. Coretta Scott King: In the midst of the civil rights movement, Mrs. King and her husband brought classic style to the fight for justice, including fashionable hats, mixed textures in the fabrics of her clothing, flower-shaped stud earrings, and classic silhouettes. One of the reasons French Elle’s article is so stupid is that it ignores the role that style’s played in the fight against racism in an attempt to assert dignity and poise in the face of white hate.
4. Diana Ross: She’s rocked everything from the conservative fashions of early Motown to an Afro. And while she’s worn designers ranging from Halston to Bob Mackie, Ross’s interest in fashion was initially professional. She’d wanted to be a designer, but ended up helping establish international trends instead.
5. Kathleen Cleaver: The former Black Panther was one of the radical women who helped popularize the Afro, and with her gorgeous earrings and signature sunglasses, she stood for the idea that you could be involved in the struggle for black liberation without playing by conservative and respectable style rules.
6. Alek Wek and Iman: Elle appears to have missed the fact that black women don’t just buy fashionable clothes, they represent the way they should be worn to the whole world. Both Wek and Iman were born in Africa and have become international style icons, walking for and inspiring everyone from Alexander McQueen to Yves Saint Laurent — and both do enormous amounts of charity work.
7. Condoleezza Rice: No matter how you feel about her politics or her tenure as National Security Adviser and Secretary of State, Rice wore great jackets, killer boots, and turned pearls into an assertion of power rather than a representation of fustiness. And she could pose in a gown at the piano she loves to play, too.
8. Beyonce and Solange Knowles: High fashion and hipster queen, the Knowles sisters have very different senses of styles that compliment their music and personalities. Elle should know that black women aren’t just confined to street fashion, to one label, or to one set of trends.