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Nigeria-born designer Joy Meribe opens Milan Fashion Week

MILAN (AP) — Nigeria-born designer Joy Meribe opened Milan Fashion Week on Wednesday with her debut runway collection, a concrete success for a movement to promote diversity in Italian fashion just a year after launching.

The Italian National Fashion Chamber tapped Meribe to open six days of womenswear previews for Spring-Summer 2022 after her inaugural col- lection for the “We are Made in Italy” initiative last year found commercial success.

“Beyond whatever video, proclamation or manifesto that we make, the real test is whether clients buy your prod- ucts. Joy passed that exam,” said Italian-Haitian designer Stella Jean, who helped launch the initiative in the summer of 2020, asking the question, “Do Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion?” inspired by the U.S. movement

and following racists gaffes by major Italian fashion houses. “It wouldn’t have been so

quick, if there wasn’t an accel- eration from the United States,” said Jean, who basked in the early success in the front row alongside Italy-based U.S.-born designer Edward Buchanan and Afro Fashion Week Milano founder Michelle Ngonmo.

Meribe broke down in tears after the show as she thanked the fashion chamber and the movement’s founders for get- ting her to the runway.

The collection featured tiered and ruffled skirts and jackets with built-in capes that were both regal, as seen in an off- shoulder dress sweeping the ground, and hip, including a mini day-dresses and shoul- der-baring tunic. Textiles were an explosion of bright yellow against sky blue, with tropic prints featuring thatched cot- tages against flourishing banana trees, which Meribe said was meant to celebrate a return to more normality.

“We have passed from a dark moment, and I wanted to create something full of hope and light, the joy of restarting,” she said backstage.

The initiative that launched Meribe opened its second edi- tion this fashion week, an all- female group of designers working in Italy with roots in Togo, Morocco, Haiti, Cuba and India, following last year’s “Fab Five” inaugural class of all African-born designers.

“There is movement happen- ing,” said Buchanan, the American designer behind the Sansovino 6 label. “Of course everything takes time, but it takes somehow an industry to get used to the idea that these are talents like any other.”

To point, they have created a database of more than 3,000 fashion professionals with diverse racial and ethnic back- grounds living in Italy, includ- ing designers, merchandisers, photographers and stylists, with the aim of putting to rest the notion that diverse talents weren’t available in Italy.

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