Book charts how black icons set fashion’s trends
The timing couldn’t be better.
That was at the forefront of Constance C.R. White’s mind as she sat in a movie theater watching “Black Panther,” Marvel’s mega-hit, much-buzzed-about film.
“It’s already a financial blockbuster, and it shows all indications that it will become a cultural touchstone,” she says.
And that suits her just fine, as White, a former editor-in-chief of Essence magazine, has just come out with a lush new coffee-table book examining how black style trends and icons — from Beyonce, Rihanna and Pharrell Williams to Michelle Obama, Sidney Poitier, and Maya Angelou — have influenced today’s mainstream fashion and pop culture.
Packed with more than 150 photos, “How to Slay: Inspiration From the Queens and Kings of Black Style” is like a Hollywood Walk-of-Fame for African-American stylemakers. Look, there’s Josephine Baker — the Rihanna of her day, as White points out — in a banana belt, pearls (and little else). There’s Pam Grier, in all her blaxploitation badness; Cab Calloway, in “Zaz Zuh Zaz” zoot suit; or Halle Berry, ultra glam on the Oscars red carpet, and again in her “Die Another Day” Bond-girl bikini packing a blade.
“Elements of African-American style are so in, so much a part of our lives today … no matter the color of your skin,” she writes.
Your fave gold hoop earrings? Well, like any of the ones worn in “Black Panther,” they hearken back to hip-hop days, which in turn find inspiration from the bold jewelry of African tribeswomen, White explains.
And it’s not just clothes. Think kohl-rimmed eyes. Or hair weaves. Or, most recently, nail art, applied with a pointillist’s precision that even Georges Seurat might envy. .
Some might call this cultural appropriation. Though, in an era such as ours, so hyper-aware of division and dissent, it can be something of a relief to be reminded of the ways in which American culture continues to be an amalgam of varied ethnic styles, a fabric with an ever-expanding pattern. Either way, White isn’t looking to preach here. That’s why the book is packed with photos.
“I want people to have it on their coffee table and at some point pick it up and just have a moment where they lose themselves,” she says.
‘How to Slay:
Inspiration From the Queens and Kings of Black Style’
by Constance White
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