When white designers replicate one another, intentionally or otherwise, they are called derivative, and uninspired. When they copy Black designers, they are rewarded for their efforts with the cloak of invisibility that shrouds Black women.
This week Instagram learned of yet another Black fashion designer being forced to watch their creativity line the pockets of others. Fe Noel, who has been using her Caribbean heritage to create, elegant staples and lush statement pieces for years, posted side by side images of pants she designed for a previous collection with those presented by designer Ulla Johnson. Beneath the image she anticipated the fury of her followers writing, “I’ll let you be the judge.”
Social media did not disappoint quickly pointing out that the similarities between the items appeared to be more than coincidental. That didn’t stop Net-A-Porter from charging $395 for them.
This happens all the time and when everyone is forwarding the offending image or video to their timelines, they are rarely discussing how it occurs over and over.
These incidents take place because while mainstream retailers love to scope out the trends set by Black artists and consumers they don’t pay as close attention to the people behind them.
The question of whether or not Ulla Johnson had seen Noel’s design prior to creating her pant is just one part of the equation. Whether or not any one at Net-A-Porter has ever bothered to look any the beautiful lookbooks presented by Noel season after season is another. In order for Black designers, Black editors, Black writers, Black stylists, and Black writers to flourish people have to quit stalling their research at their immediate circles.
This is not someone who is obscure or unknown. She is a design powerhouse who is gaining hard won steam every season and she deserves to be seen and respected.
It’s not hard to imagine that the buyer would have noticed if Johnson presented an option that was reminiscent of one of the many identical blonde Brooklynites lining the walls of Bloomingdales. They should be just as familiar with Black designers who are making strides. Noel has been featured in Vogue multiple times. She was one of three designers who teamed up with Lebron James and Harlem’s Fashion Row for a historic Nike collaboration. Her aesthetics is consistent and easily recognizable to anyone interested in paying attention.
The work of the Fe Noels of the world should be celebrated beyond the black community because they’re stylish, they’re important, and more often than not they were probably here first.
Editors Note: HelloBeautiful reached out to both Fe Noel and representatives for Ulla Johnson regarding the similarities in the designs. Neither party responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.