Zendaya Knows: Modern Fashion Demands Inclusivity

On Saturday, Zendaya's effort for Tommy Hilfiger at Paris Fashion Week featured 59 Black models styled by a Black hairstylist and makeup artist.
Zendaya during Paris Fashion Week
Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage

Zendaya just wanted to show appreciation when she planned her fashion show with Tommy Hilfiger on Saturday in Paris. The story goes: Hilfiger called the 22-year-old actress and asked her to create the runway presentation of her dreams for her collection with the American brand. Then, Zendaya, with the help of her creative partner Law Roach, got to work. What ensued was an all-Black fashion show heavily inspired by the Battle of Versailles.


In 1973, designers went head to head for the Battle of Versailles fashion show, a fundraiser for restoration efforts of the Parisian palace that turned into a legendary fashion show with the likes of American designers Stephen Burrows, Anne Klein, and Bill Blass against French designers Christian Dior, Hubert Givenchy, and Yves Saint Laurent. The evening was an unprecedented moment for Black models because ten were a part of the presentations. It was a night so iconic, Ava Duvernay is reportedly directing a film recreating the evening.

For Zendaya, the opportunity to show her line in the same city meant tapping all the women who inspired her.

"I want to make a show inspired by the women who made it possible for me to be in the position where I am now,” Zendaya told ELLE. “Honestly, I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ to them through this show. I said to Tommy, 'If we do a show, this is what it needs to be about.' And Tommy said, 'Great. Go for it.' And he actually meant it. I mean, look."

Fashion week presentations, even in our increasingly woke culture, are notoriously not diverse, and in a season of immense culturally insensitive fashion faux pas (i.e. Gucci) the occurrence of an all-Black Parisian show is rare.

Zendaya, however, through her collaborative capsule collection—that included nautical stripes, denim bell bottoms, bright crop tops, and metallic jackets—pulled it off. She had Black artists Pat McGrath leading makeup and Kim Kimble leading hair, with 59 black models, ages 18 to 70, walking the show. Models who walked in Zendaya's show included Veronica Webb, Beverly Johnson, Pat Cleveland, Winnie Harlow, Leomie Anderson, and Grace Jones.


Her presentation, which she said Hilfiger allowed her to have complete creative control over, marks a slow but sure shift in the fashion industry. Paris Fashion Week, which is known to be one of the least inclusive weeks for models of color, has increased its castings of non-white models. According to a report by The Fashion Spot, last year’s Fall 2018 runway shows were the first time in Paris Fashion Week history that non-white models made up over 30 percent of the faces gracing the catwalks.

Appointing Zendaya as the global ambassador shows an evolution for Hilfiger, who was accused of racism in the late 1990s. Rather than following the formula of some fashion giants — stealing aesthetics from Black culture instead of hiring Black designers or creative directors—Hilfiger picked an ambassador in Zendaya that represents not just the modern fashion it girl, but a young woman with a platform and voice. Zendaya is a proud supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and proponent of diversity in Hollywood.

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"Everybody has something different that they’re great at," Zendaya told ELLE. "We need to learn from people with experience, even as the world changes. I’m still at the beginning of my career, and to learn from Tommy about having a fashion line, that’s incredibly important to me.”

Zendaya took her platform as an outspoken, politically-conscious fashion darling, and flipped Paris Fashion Week upside down. It was evident from the celebratory atmosphere of the show—people dancing in their seats, exclaiming with delight at every model, and losing their minds when Jones closed the show. On Saturday at the raucous Parisian show, it became apparent that diversity is not just what fashion needs—it’s what consumers want.