As a storyteller, I’m often asked about my favorite film of all time, and people think I’m joking when I say: The Devil Wears Prada. Yes, I can rave about Parasite and Inception until my voice grows hoarse, but no movie has ever made my soul hungry the way Prada did. Thinking back on it after all these years, I realized I love this movie so much because Andy (Anne Hathaway’s character) was me: a writer and a nerd born with the fashion sense of a goat who did not belong in this glamorous and beautiful world, but one who cemented her place in it through her intelligence, willingness to adapt, and relentlessness work ethic. She was the Slyther-claw’s Cinderella. (Part Slytherin, aka ambitious; part Ravenclaw, aka analytical—I know this is Vogue, but I promise to explain all my nerd speak.)
As a teenager, I wrote stories about powerful girls wearing outfits like the ones Andy wore in the film. I fantasized about becoming an overworked fashion assistant one day even though the only clothes in my closet at the time were recreational soccer T-shirts and a horrible pair of bell-bottom jeans that didn’t belong in that decade. (I thought they were fire—I was wrong.)
Over the years, I binged several iterations of Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model, and yes, I recently inhaled Next in Fashion—go Minju!—but I never thought I would have a place in this world. The few black faces I saw were stunning icons with a confidence and elegance I didn’t think I could ever touch in this lifetime—Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, Leomie Anderson, Duckie Thot, Adut Akech. They inspired me, but they seemed like the anomaly. Every other time I glanced at a runway, I only saw women who were tall, thin, and most of the time, white.
And then came the Valentino spring 2019 couture show.
I still remember staring at Instagram transfixed as images and videos of the show filled my feed. The clothes were beautiful and colorful, and the whimsical garments adorned the bodies of 39 black models. As a storyteller, my mind filled will the fantasies that could have these beautiful pieces of art in their world. But as a human? As a little black girl who had always admired fashion from afar but never thought she could dare to have a place in it? I teared up. I thought I was being dramatic at the time, but then I saw Naomi Campbell on that runway just as tearful. Just as emotional. And I understood, because for the first time in my life we were seen. We were given the most beautiful embrace. We were told through Pierpaolo’s elegant designs and bold visual statement that we were valued. We were beautiful. We were worthy. And best of all, we belonged.
From that day on, Pierpaolo and Valentino had a special place in my heart. So getting to witness their fall 2020 fashion show this past weekend was the closest I have ever come to a fairytale. In the three days I got to share with these kind and passionate artists, I laughed, I cried, I learned, and I felt more radiant than I ever have before. It’s a day I will never forget.