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Eleganza: Fashioning a Creative Community at Harvard

By Onyx E. Ewa, Crimson Opinion Writer
Onyx E. Ewa ’24 is an Art, Film, and Visual Studies concentrator in Winthrop House. Their column “All Black Everything” appears on alternate Thursdays.

I’ve always been interested in fashion. For as long as I can remember, I’ve flipped through fashion magazines, ripping out pages to save my favorite looks. I started sewing clothes when I was nine, began making my own designs when I was about 12, and never stopped. I’d proudly walk the halls of my high school in my latest designs, and even now, when people comment on my outfits, I’ll often reply with “Thanks, I made it!” I love fashion—it sustains me, it allows me to express myself, and the clothes I make and wear help me to feel confident and beautiful. Thus, when I was a senior in high school, choosing a college to attend, it was essential that the school I went to had some way for me to get involved in fashion on campus.

Harvard is not exactly known as a hub for fashion. This year, I am enrolled in one of only two fashion classes that have been taught at the College in recent years. There is an overwhelming lack of institutional support for students who are interested in fashion as an academic or career path, but students are working to overcome this by creating their own spaces for fashion on campus. I am a member of FIG Magazine, Harvard’s first fashion publication, which was founded in 2018 to create a diverse space for Harvard students interested in fashion. I am also the founding Editorial Director of the Lavender Room, an upcoming BIPOC fashion and arts publication. My dream is to run a fashion magazine, and both of these organizations have given me the opportunity to build skills and create work in alignment with that dream.

Fashion organizations at Harvard are essential spaces for students who are interested in fashion and the arts, and none have been around longer than Eleganza, which was founded in 1994 by cultural production organization Black C.A.S.T. Eleganza’s annual show is Harvard’s largest student-run event, and it provides an opportunity for a diverse cast of students to celebrate expression through fashion and dance. I watched last year’s virtual show, and was impressed by the high production value, vibrant dances, and beautiful outfits. The 2022 show takes place next Saturday, April 23, and I am so excited to attend my first in-person Eleganza.

I had the opportunity to speak with Eleganza’s Executive Producer in charge of Fashion, Finance, and Publicity, Salena Prakah-Asante ’23, and she explained that since its founding, Eleganza’s mission was to focus on Black representation, as well as diversity and inclusion more generally. This diversity is reflected not only among the show’s cast of models and dancers, but also in the featured brands and designers. While Black people make up 13.4 percent of the United States population, we account for only about 4 percent of American designers. Shows like Eleganza are trying to change that by highlighting the diverse work of Black designers and brands, including FUBU, Washington Ave, Bless by Bless, House of Aama, and Savage X Fenty, among others.

Prakah-Asante described some of the challenges that Black designers face, including the fact that Black designers are often not taken seriously, and many are “siloed into the streetwear area, because that’s just something that in media and entertainment, we really associate with Black creativity.” Brands like Savage X Fenty are doing creative and transformational work in the fashion industry, in “showcasing the diverse range of bodies and faces that we have through their shoots and through their website.”

Diversity in fashion is more than a numbers game or a PR stunt; it’s important to represent a wide range of identities and experiences within the fashion industry because, as Prakah-Asante explains, “Fashion is not this kind of superficial thing where we’re just putting together outfits or trying to make ourselves look nice, it’s really a full industry that is so integrated into people’s lives.” For me, the clothes I wear reflect my family history, my Black and queer identities, my approach to art, and my definintion of beauty. I think many others would say the same, and Prakah-Asante hopes that Eleganza attendees will reflect on their personal relationships with fashion and fashion brands.

Salena Prakah-Asante says that fashion has always been an important part of her life, and that Eleganza was one of the reasons she decided to attend Harvard. “I think seeing the level of creativity and freedom of expression on stage when I was visiting pre-frosh really excited me,” she said.

Fashion is an integral part of so many people’s lives, and Eleganza helps to show that there is a space at Harvard for people who value fashion. The show takes place during Visitas each year, and it helps expose incoming freshmen to the amazing creative community that exists at this institution.

Onyx E. Ewa ’24 is an Art, Film, and Visual Studies concentrator in Winthrop House. Their column “All Black Everything” appears on alternate Thursdays.

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