Peruse the myriad of blogs, roundtable discussions and YouTube instructional videos about going natural, and it’s evident that natural hair has made an indelible impact on the beauty industry in recent years. Vogue Italia’s new profile about natural hair explores its burgeoning presence in the business of Fashion, particularly on the Fall 2012 runways. It’s notable that natural hair has not only been embraced by the blogosphere and a small portion of Hollywood, seen most prominently in Viola Davis’ natural hair coif at the 2012 Oscars, but it’s been given the high fashion stamp of approval straight from the catwalks of Paris and New York.
To be fair, we’ve already witnessed the fashion industry embrace luminaries like Wonderland fashion editor Julia Sarr-Jamois who appeared in Tibi’s Spring 2012 campaign and walked in the Alberta Ferretti Pre-Fall 2012 presentation. Singer Solange Knowles made the transition to natural and saw her fashion career blossom with a contract for Next Models, an appearance on the Alberta Ferretti Pre-Fall 2012 show at Milan Fashion Week, an opening spread in The New York Times Style Magazine’s “Nightie Aphrodite” editorial (a salute to natural hair and evening gowns which also included Corrine Bailey Rae) and even a daily blog for Vogue UK chronicling her looks. But for traditional runway models to see a rise in natural hairstyles during Fashion Week is particularly momentous.
From Tyra Banks to Jourdan Dunn, supermodels have spoken out about hairstylists behind-the-scenes at fashion shows who simply do not know how to care for ethnic hair. As recently as May of last year, Jourdan Dunn vented on her Twitter account, saying “I swear some people need to learn how to do black hair/skin.”
Even more alarming, Vogue Italia sheds light on the permanent damage done to Black hair on the catwalk. Veteran supermodels like Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks have suffered from alopecia publicly on account of the toll modeling had on their hair:
Left in the hands of hairstylists deaf to the temperment of Black tresses, Black fashion pioneers have recounted tales of their coils and strands being stretched to their breaking, frayed ends; scalps carelessly permed, harshly scorched, battered with color, and left to be restored by weaves, wigs, and the shearing of frazzled locks […] This while Black model stalwarts Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks have fought the effects of alopecia publicly, Banks raising significant awareness to the damaging toll modeling has caused to her hair by going completely natural in 2010.
To be sure, there are a handful of models who have enjoyed wearing their natural strands for decades, including Alek Wek and Noemie Lenior, as Vogue Italia points out. Still, the Fall 2012 Fashion Weeks reveal a documented increase in models like Ajak Deng, Hereith Paul, Nana Keita and Flaviana Mataka parading down the runway in natural hairstyles from New York to Paris. These styles run the gamut from Ajak’s close-cropped, blonde buzz cut to Elyce Cole’s angular ‘fro, each uniquely textured and exquisite. This rise signals a new climate in which the beauty of textured hair, in its unaltered state, is celebrated on an international scale.
What Vogue Italia does not explore, however, is the shelf life of this new fixation with natural hair. To be fair, blogs that document every facet of the natural hair journey and celebrities flaunting their textured coifs on the red carpet are not necessarily new phenomenons. Afrobella, LoveBrownSugar, and Curly Nikki have built a following chronicling their natural hair experiences and creating an online community in the process. Only recently, however, have we seen a shift in mainstream culture. The fact that Viola Davis’ TWA (teeny weeny afro) at the 2012 Oscars was explored, celebrated and dissected so prominently shows that natural hair is still forging a place in our collective social imagination.
Natural hair on the runways is the latest step in a trajectory toward mainstream recognition. However, once the current buzz reaches its zenith, will natural hair fall by the wayside like trends before it or will it be incorporated into runway shows, editorials and advertisements for seasons to come? For now, it is at least a temporary relief to models of color who want to protect their strands on the catwalk. More profoundly, it’s a quiet affirmation to women everywhere that natural hair is indeed beautiful.