Independent journalist and content creator Constance C.R. White’s impressive expertise in style and Black culture extends across a multitude of platforms. Among her myriad career highlights, she has reported on fashion for the New York Times; held the titles of executive fashion editor of Elle and editor-in-chief of Essence; developed style content for eBay; written How To Slay: Kings and Queens of Black Style from Rizzoli, and created a corresponding podcast. Her writing continues to appear in leading fashion publications such as Vogue Business and New York magazine (The Cut). White was the first Black woman to hold an executive position at a major fashion magazine becoming the executive fashion editor of Elle magazine and the first African American to cover the European shows for the New York Times. She also appears regularly appears on TV, each time weighing in with approachable authority.
In what ways do you see exploration as a natural part of the design process?
Design is about creation, coming up with something that did not exist before. Thinking of exploration as something outside of ourselves, exploration includes seeing what’s new in art, seeking new ways of looking at a garment from other designers, exploring nature, fabrics, reading a book. The opportunities are really endless. So exploration is a natural part of the design process. You can also think of exploration as going inward, into yourself. Designers who explore the recesses of their minds tend to come up with some interesting concepts. You cannot have good design without exploration.
What are some of the themes and ideas that you would like to see designers exploring through the next few seasons?
Art is one. I always like to see what comes from art. In addition, the fundamental changes happening in society are ripe with possibility as themes to be explored. Women’s bodies declared controlled by the state, anti-immigration strains, the desire of former colonies to declare their independence, the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, which has extended around the world, climate change activism – are all social impact themes that I’d like to see designers explore even more. Then there are NFTs, the next frontier also called Web3. Exploration there has already led to some interesting outcomes.
How have these past years shaped the way you explore fashion through social media and the virtual world?
On the one hand, it has totally changed how I explore fashion. On the other hand, the tried and true remain the same, because while we may be on the cusp of something transformative, we are NOT there yet. And this is why it’s difficult from a business perspective. You have to sell, be profitable now, and as a business owner or conscientious executive, you want to plan for the future as well.
Fifteen years ago, I could never have imagined that today, I could sit in my living room with my slippers on and see collections in South Africa in Kenya, in Denmark, in Detroit, and all over New York. I can see the shows, I can see [the collections] for sale on, say, Net-a-Porter, on the designer’s website, or through emails sent by the designer. It’s remarkable when you really think about it. Also, with social media, I can be more open to other cultures and allow for fashion stories to develop from many different directions and tribes. These are tools of communication. They literally expand our universe.
How do you, personally, explore what’s new and exciting in fashion?
I reach out to people via social media. I get an avalanche of emails and I try to look at as many photographs, press releases and videos as I can. I still go to live runway shows or visit designers in their studio. But I confess, I also appreciate the convenience and possibilities digital allows.
I keep an eye on what’s happening in Web 3.0, I speak with fashion colleagues including other journalists and read their work. I watch the street. I watch what’s emerging from the Black communities because it’s so directional. I’m not a big fan of museum exhibits for keeping up with what’s going on (I adore them in my private life). I’d much rather spend time hearing a lecture on Web 3.0 – like what RTFKT is doing, or what’s the latest hairstyle or sneaker trend Black women are creating. But these are all personal ways that I keep a finger on what’s new and interesting in fashion.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.