A Chat With Fashion Media Expert Louis Pisano

It is renewed how homogenous in colors, shapes, and mentality the fashion industry is in the United States, however European showrooms, fashion houses, and representatives share a similar difficulty in scenario that several non-white people have had to endure in order to break into these spaces of upper eschelone designer fashion. In 2019 Louis Pisano made sure to speak up for this community he’s part of on a Medium blog post, which was shared a year later on his Twitter account in the light of the Black Lives Matter protests occurring in both USA and Europe(particularly in France and Italy)

Louis Pisano, 30, is a fashion enthusiast and commentator, who has made a name in the Italian fashion field because of the lack and demand for acute observations and highlights around both the fashion and the entertainment industries in Italy. 

On June 25th, 2019, Belgian-Moroccan artist Mous Lamrabat posted a picture on his Instagram account portraying one of his photography works. The image, deleted after many concerning comments, showing a Black model wearing a white robe with a pointed hat, whose eyes’ frame was cut in the shape of the Nike swoosh. Under the picture, the caption read: KOUSKOUSKLAN, a subtle reference to the racist group Klu Klux Khan (KKK), even though the artist claimed to have taken inspiration from the Spanish Nazarenos and their Easter costumes, which are very similar to the uniform used by the KKK. Lamrabat didn’t find his creative direction poor nor inappropriate, but instead, he thought that it was more of an ironic note that he wanted to make against the idea of “fear”. The image, says Louis in his article,  “simply captioned, with no context given and posted” got on Vogue Italia’s official Instagram page and digital website, chosen for the “Pic of the day”. 

As a Black man, an African descendant from the United States, Louis felt the necessity to bring his concerns and astonishment for the lack of knowledge and taste that these European artists and publications were made without considering any harmful connotations. After a whole year after the message sent to Alessia Glaviano, Brand Visual Director of Vogue Italia, and his detailed argument against these artistic managements, Louis decided to share once again these old thoughts under a richer perspective on his social media pages with thousands of followers from all over the world, particularly after the recent Black Lives Matter protests and the death of George Floyd, much discussed in Europe these last few weeks.

The narratives that Europeans are expected to listen to, learn from, and report on their sets, editorials, and screens are often not explored enough. Predominantly white staffs in fashion houses and publications, like Vogue Italia and Vogue Paris, have difficulty in accepting different criticisms and points of views coming from an outsider position. Black people, particularly African-American, are the major minority to experience this kind of treatment. Solid biased and skepticism is discussed in these spaces between white and POC, especially in terms of cultural appropriation, creative directions, and modeling jobs.

For Volatile, Louis took some of his precious time to share his story and takes around such a fragile topic, which needs to bring on the table different points of view and solutions to the matters.

Who is Louis Pisano and what is your background connected with fashion?

I would say that my love of fashion stemmed from the time spent living in Japan as a child. Growing up in a strict conservative East Coast family with a military officer for a father, I wouldn’t say that individuality and self-expression were encouraged, and as a result, I spent a lot of time in my head living in my fantasies. Moving to the island of Okinawa, Japan on the cusp of the new millennium was a life-changing experience. Japanese kids were so cool, particularly the teenagers with that Y2K aesthetic mixed with kawaii. Everything was so colorful, so pop, futuristic, it was worlds away from the Polo shirts and khaki shorts my parents designated as our “uniform” at the time. Needless to say when we returned back to the States 4 years later I had a new mental library of cultural and style references for my daydream fantasies to get me through the banality of the next few years of my private Catholic school.

What is your relationship with Europe, and ultimately its fashion industry?

My relationship with Europe had always been one of curiosity, covert viewings of Mary-Kate & Ashley movies ( deemed too girly by my parents ) when they came on tv,  like 1999’s Passport To Paris, 2001’s Winning London, and 2002’s When In Rome coupled with The Lizzie McGuire Movie in which Lizzie travels to Rome. However high school was when I REALLY knew Europe was where my future lay. Fast forward through a disastrous stint in university and a few other life shakeups and I found myself in Milan, Italy.
When I first started navigating the fashion scene in Milan while the alarm bells didn’t immediately go off. I was always very aware that I was often the only black person or among a small handful of black people in the room. I got my start in the party and nightlife scene. I used to dress up crazy and go to all these fashion parties and clubs and while I was still adjusting to life in Europe I was also coming to terms with my own blackness as I was finally independent from the ideals and philosophies imposed by my white adoptive father, however, I understood the importance of assimilating first and foremost being an American outsider with no background in fashion. 

Was there ever a culture shock that struck you when you started working in fashion in Milan? Was this shock related to your Blackness or other labels you happened to identify with?

It was shortly after once I had gotten my foot in the door enough to understand the fashion industry was not as progressive as I had once imagined it to be and primarily related to race. I began exploring different ways just as I had in high school to assimilate so that the color of my skin would have no bearing on how I was treated. I started a blog taking pictures of influential ( white people ) at parties in hopes of proving my usefulness to them, that I belonged just as much as my Italian friends that traveled in that strata of Milanese society which I can say was definitely a significant launching pad into the visibility I wanted. It was because of that blog that I was offered a job in fashion PR coinciding with becoming a recognizable part of the fabric of the party scene when I started door selecting at one of the most popular fashion parties of the mid-2010s in Milan. It was around probably the height of that phase of my life when I found myself in extremely close proximity to the inner circle of the fashion system and its intimates that I started looking from the inside back out into the world and realized that fashion was in fact NOT a reflection of society as I once had thought. Why were there so few black people or people of color in general around? Why was everything so fixated on Eurocentric beauty ideals to the point where it was a hostile environment for those who didn’t meet those criteria? Why was the slightest mention of racial inequality or other serious issues in the industry such uncomfortable topics when I dared ask people in positions of power direct questions. Why was I being labeled a troublemaker for wanting answers? This is where my exploration into industry racism began.

What do you think you have accomplished with posting that article on Medium?  How has Vogue Italia failed in their direction, according to your point of view as a fashion commentator?

A few years in when I posted my Medium article in reaction to Vogue Italia’s picture of the day featuring KKK imagery I was angry. I was angry because it was another example of what happens when people of color are not present in decision making spaces and what followed showed the lack of desire for our opinions. When it comes to diversity and inclusion in the fashion industry people act like they’re having a tooth pulled, like it’s physically painful to include people of color.  I do not know the artist but from how defensive he became when called out and his flippant response coupled with outright lies to backtrack it was apparent to me that this was meant to cause racial provocation under the guise of “art”. 
Not to speak ill of Alessia Glaviano but as a white woman, she glossed over the entire history of violence and trauma that imagery has in relation to the black community in order to assign pseudo-intellectual value to that photo.  My discussion with her added further insult when she accused me of just arguing for argument's sake when in reality as someone who has a mother who grew up in the South in the ’40s and ’50s at the height of the KKK’s reign of terror I do feel some sort of emotional response to seeing those pictures and she invalidated my feelings. THAT for me was Vogue Italia failing to properly have a conversation about real-world issues past their aesthetic value by simply melting them down to an art statement and disregarding valid criticism from the communities that the subject matter deals with. I think a lot of people who come from the “old school” of fashion journalism and industry pipeline like I’ll assume given the response that people like Alessia come from, dismiss too easily the opinions of “new media” ,  of fashion commenters on the internet, many of whom are quite educated in their given fields which is quite unfortunate because if they took the time to pay attention to internet culture they would be able to avoid many of the missteps they commit so often. 

I think that in Europe they cling to certain ideals to feel safe, to feel like the world they knew isn’t leaving them behind. The resistance to recognizing that the world is changing, that people come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes are what could potentially render the fashion industry obsolete if they don’t make more of an effort to keep up with the ever-evolving dynamics of society. It shouldn’t take detailed plans and quotas of ensuring diversity on the runways and initiatives to support young black designers etc to ensure this, it takes a range of people from all backgrounds with a global perspective from the get-go in positions of power to from the corporate structure down. There is an old guard currently in the fashion system that refuses to modernize and as long as these people hold the keys to the kingdom the calls for change will always be met with resistance from people who fear losing control to a world they no longer feel they that they understand. Circling back around to what I spoke about above they would smart to keep their eye to online culture, to analyze the temperature on social media, consult those that capture the voice of a generation of fashion enthusiasts especially on Twitter like @PAM_BOY, @hautelemess, @bibbygregory @DECOUTURIZE , @amondalek , and @bronze_bombshel who are some of my favorites having the conversations and finding the solutions that veteran industry leaders seem not to. The answers are already out there.

Do you foresee inclusivity in Europe? If no, why? If yes, how this process will make its own space in European society?

It really depends on the transfer of power when the current old guard does make their exit. If they choose specifically to choose successors that will uphold their current vision of the industry then we will be having this discussion for years to come. Who knows maybe by then most of these positions they hold will be irrelevant, maybe people will be sick of waiting for change and create their own separate fashion entities that are not ruled by the Camera Moda, the British Fashion Council and the Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode. However, if the old guard does recognize that the world has changed and that although they didn’t know how to keep up, that the preservation of the industry depends on diverse smart hires with their eye on the future then yes inclusivity will become a non-issue in fashion in Europe in my opinion. It will take a lot of work with everyone on board but we can get there and our generation is the key.

Giulia Baldini