Constance White Says the Met Gala Theme Has Been a Part of Black Culture for Ages

Photo: Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic.
A year ago, award-winning fashion writer and editor Constance C.R. White released her book, How To Slay:Inspiration from the Queens and Kings of Black Style, a look back at the cultural history of Black style icons. White covered fashion for the New York Times before moving on to become the style director at eBay. She also was the editor-in-chief of Essence magazine from 2011 to 2013.
On Monday, White started her latest chapter, a fashion-focused podcast with Univision called How To Slay, bringing listeners personal success stories from compelling entrepreneurs, corporate leaders and creatives of diverse backgrounds. In addition to the empowering tips, White has enlisted a slew of provocative opinions and fresh voices like Bloomingdales' Operating Vice President Of Diversity & Inclusion and Community Service Nicole Cokley-Dunlap, and designer Carly Cushnie.
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Refinery29 caught up with White who opened up about starting a podcast, fashion's racist missteps, and her biggest predictions for the upcoming Met Gala.
Refinery29: Why was now the perfect time to launch your podcast? Do you have a favourite episode? What was your favourite topic to discuss?
Constance White: It's the perfect time to launch my new podcast, “How to Slay,” because there's a hunger for real talk, for human decency and generosity. People want to connect and hear each other’s stories that inspire and encourage career success and self-actualization. I can't choose a favourite child! Why did Shawn Outler, one of the top Macys executives for many years, accept a Diversity & Inclusion position? Traditionally these roles have no P&L accountability? Why did stylist/fashion editor Agnes Cammock break down in tears at a Paris fashion show years ago?
You've had such an inspiring career. What is your biggest career high and what has been the biggest mistake? What about the biggest learning moment?
Thank you. Wow! I've had a few highs. Working at WWD, I met a whole lot of warm-hearted, interesting, fun people who I stay in touch with. The New York Times was major because I was a journalist. To have the opportunity to work for probably the top media brand or newspaper in the world was indescribable, humbling, amazing. You had the opportunity to cover luxury fashion in depth and reach a thoughtful audience. I'm always so grateful for that experience. People have said, when I talk about eBay, I light up. It was dream-team time. I learned so much. It was so collaborative. I loved being closer to the consumer. We had the chance to do so many innovations because eBay and the internet were so new to fashion and I was totally new to digital.
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Biggest mistake? Maybe the whole article could be that. I've made more than one. In fashion, we're not curing cancer but what you do each day matters. So I find my mistakes are when I don't move forward with courage. You can't put the business above your personal values of honesty and integrity, kindness to people, and a desire for a world of equality. Biggest learning is quite literally studying for an MBA. I completed it recently and I now have a much more global perspective on fashion and communications.
Why do you think racist missteps keep happening in fashion? What does the industry need to do to avoid this happening in the future? What brands, in your opinion, get it right?
It's a direct result of not teaching diverse cultures in schools and not having diverse and inclusive points of view at the table in companies where a diverse group of employees can give input and help make decisions that would benefit the company. These companies and executives should note that there are a fair number of rational people who do not believe these were accidental missteps. That's terrible and I don’t know if they realize this.
As far as who gets it right, in my opinion, Ralph Lauren. Balmain. Chanel. Tom Ford, The Gap, Hilfiger, and Eileen Fisher are some.
What do you think of the Met Gala's Camp theme? Any big predictions on who will win the red carpet this year? What celebrities or musicians do you think already embody the camp theme?
Well, I would have rather seen the blockbuster show Afro-centrism and its impact on fashion. That is timely. But camp will certainly be exciting. Rihanna is always in the race. Lady Gaga is the perfect person to host. I mean she rode into fashion on a horse named camp. Nicki Minaj, RuPaul, Beyoncé are some of these celebs already embodying camp. Rappers are interesting. I never know when they are deadly serious or going for high camp. I believe it’s part of the Black culture through the ages, sometimes adopted by the gay community.
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
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