On Wednesday, 16 Black actresses gathered around French film star Aïssa Maïga on the Cannes Film Festival steps — the same ones where Kristen Stewart defiantly challenged the event's outdated dress code — to promote the documentary based on the book Being Black Is Not My Profession, a compilation of various actresses experiences in the movie industry, which Maïga co-authored. To honor the occasion, Maïga reached out to her friend Rousteing with the idea to dress the group — and the designer jumped at the chance.
“I loved getting to know a little bit about these women through the compelling stories that they have shared,” Rousteing, who dressed the women in custom fall 2018 pieces, said in a press release. “It was their honesty and humor — as well as their strength and resilience — that struck me as I quickly turned each page. Sadly, though, it was all too easy for me to recognize the inappropriate comments, ignorance, and discrimination that they have faced during their careers.”
Rousteing is the first Black man to hold the position of creative director at Balmain, and one of just two Black designers to be at the helm of an LVMH-owned fashion house (the other is Louis Vuitton’s newly-installed Virgil Abloh). In 2015, Rousteing told Out magazine that he faced discrimination as soon as his hiring was announced. “People were like, 'Oh my God, he’s a minority taking over a French house,'" he said. “For me, I’m just French. Yeah, I’m Black, but go out into the street — there’s Black, white, Chinese, Arab…” The designer has also been outspoken about the lack of diversity across the industry.
“I’m very lucky,” he continued in the press release. “I work for a house whose beautifully diverse 'Balmain Army' makes very clear that we proudly stand for inclusion and representation. In addition to being the right thing to do, Balmain also knows that it simply makes common sense to celebrate and reflect the power, talents and beauty of each and every member of the society where we actually live. I’m looking forward to the day that France’s actors can say the same sort of thing about our nation’s film industry.”
But standing in solidarity — and in style — is just the first step. On Thursday, Maïga and the 16 actresses will hold a forum at Cannes to discuss their experiences working as actresses in the French and American movie industries, and to speak out specifically against the racism they’ve endured while doing so.