Model icon Debra Shaw is styled by Emma Wyman in ‘Debra Shaw: Deliverance, lensed by Campbell Addy for Dazed Magazine Spring/Summer 2019. / Hair by Tomohiro Ohashi; makeup by Ammy Drammeh
Shaw wears designs by British-Nigerian breakout designer Mowalola Ogunlesi, who also conducts the interview.
Philadelphia-born, New Jersey-raised Shaw reflects on her Alexander McQueen AW96 Dante show walk, where she stuck out her tongue directly to the audience. Shaw was wearing a gothic mask emblazoned with a crucifix. Her Spring 1997 McQueen appearance was even more memorable.
La Poupée, McQueen’s SS97 show, was even darker: there, she appeared in a Shaun Leane-designed contraption, a manacle-like metal rectangle that shackled her elbows and knees at each corner so she walked like a crab along the water-covered runway. “The only thing that kept me going was (knowing that) if I didn’t fall, it would put my name on the map,” Shaw recalls, and it did. She stole the show with her performance, entrancing guests with her menacing gait and mesmerising hand movements twirling fluidly in front of her face. “Lee asked if I could do it in heels, but I had to stop it there,” she laughs.
“I remember watching your runway walk for that McQueen show (online),” exclaims Mowalola Ogunlesi. “It looked insane, I didn’t understand how you did what you were doing!” The British-Nigerian designer, on a break from displaying her electrifying collection at the fashion week showrooms, has just met Shaw for the first time in a Paris hotel. Ever since her Central Saint Martins graduate show – featuring oiled-up Lagos petrolheads in low-riding, graffiti- sprayed leather jackets and skinny trousers that revealed lacy thongs underneath – Ogunlesi has infiltrated London’s cultural consciousness, with her slick leather and minimal proportions presenting a new formula for dressing sexily in an age of anxiety.
Shaw and Ogunlesi engage in major discussion about their respective career rises and also racism in the fashion industry. The subject of hair is front and center, and Shaw has a series of brilliant quotes.
The first time I worked with a black hairstylist was two seasons ago and that was in Paris with Jawara. I couldn’t even say anything – I just remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re black!’ I was in a dream state. It was like Obama becoming president – I felt the same way then.
The women speak freely on a related, less-talked about topic: being the only black woman in the room, the runway . . . the token black woman. Shaw speaks:
There are a lot of people who do want to see us being represented. There are very few, I believe in my heart, that think otherwise. A lot of people want to learn and understand your story, but in order to let them know, you have to speak about it. I’m so happy casting companies exist now because they’re putting people of colour on the runway. When the stylists were doing it, it wasn’t happening – specifically the British stylists, they just weren’t hiring girls that looked like me. That’s when my work was the slowest. If they don’t see enough of us, why would they consider us? But then, how do you get through the doors? Where does it happen? Out of sight, out of mind.
Shaw shares a comment that AOC believes in deeply. Many of us are so optimistic about the tremendous changes we’re seeing on the challenge of racism in the fashion industry. But those of us who are totally committed to these changes and have fought for them for decades cannot celebrate. It will be years before we’re convinced that the changes are real — and I write these words as a white woman. Just imagine how black women feel. ~ Anne