fashion

Meet The Fashion Historian Who Uses Twitter To Uncover Black America’s Influence On Billion-Dollar Industry

Meet Shelby Ivey Christie, a New York-based, fashion and costume historian who is changing and challenging the way the world views fashion by highlighting the overlooked Black contributions to the billion-dollar industry. Christie combines nearly ten years of professional fashion experience, having worked at Vogue, InStyle, and W Magazine, with her academic background in history and costume design from NYU to examine fashion and dress through the lens of race, class, and culture.

She’s passionate about connecting the dots to discover how economics, culture and society intersect with fashion. What makes Christie unique is her uncanny ability to utilize her social media and research skills to provide in-depth analysis to unearth untold Black fashion stories and narratives for her massive Twitter following. Her Twitter handle, @bronze_bombSHEL, has a loyal and engaged audience of 39,000 and it’s there she curates Twitter threads of engaging digital history lessons by using memes, Gifs, and colloquialisms specific to the Black community. Whether it’s creating Twitter threads on one of YSL’s model muses, or Beyoncé’s Homecoming looks at Coachella, she explores the intersectionality of Black culture and fashion to create visibility and awareness of the often-forgotten influence of Black people on fashion for centuries.

Her in-depth research, primary sources, and transformation of historical text with internet content like memes and trending topics to make academic subjects more accessible, has allowed her to garner interest from fashion luminaries like Gucci Creative Director and Black designer, Dapper Dan, Anifa Mvuemba, Zerina Akers. Christie has also partnered with notable high profiled brands Netflix, CFDA, and TIDAL. Through her tireless and meticulous research, she has solidified herself as a reputable and trusted expert of Black fashion and costume design history. 

Dominique Fluker: How did you become a notable fashion and costume historian? 

Shelby Ivey Christie: My career journey has been dual-pathed. I got my start in fashion interning at W Magazine in Fall 2011. I had dropped out of college at NC A&T SU a year prior. I had enrolled in college as a fashion merchandising major. However, I was also beginning to be interested in history. Against my parent’s wishes, I snuck and changed my major to History, but then I missed my previous fashion curriculum. I returned to NC A&T SU in 2012 as a History major and earned my B.A. in Race, Class, and Culture in 2015. Upon graduating, I interned at InStyle Magazine in the accessories department.

I hadn’t previously exposed to the business side of fashion, but I had my sights set on it as my next step. After my internship concluded at the end of the summer, I threw myself into researching and applying to market roles, and I landed at Mindshare as an Associate Media Planner. A year and a half into my time there, I was recruited to join Vogue’s Digital media team as a Media Planner.

I love the business side of luxury and fashion. I still work as a luxury marketing manager full-time. However, it took me leaving Vogue to do the work that I do now to document costume and dress through the historical lens. It would have been a conflict of interest to be so vocal and critical about brands in the way that I am now, as I worked on luxury fashion accounts at Vogue. The content started in January 2018 after my Vogue time because I could be more open on my platforms. I became a Fashion Historian by finally converging my two loves and careers: fashion and history. I recognized that there was a huge gaping hole in a fashion where Blackness should be. I took it upon myself to begin documenting and highlighting untapped Black contributions to fashion.

Fluker: Speak to how the fashion history and business are interconnected. 

Christie: Fashion history directly affects fashion because the history of fashion is not merely just that – It is not just a history of clothing or design. Fashion is political, with societal and cultural implications. The business side of fashion’s lack of understanding about specific cultural and racial history like Blackface and Black caricatures had led them down the path of including Blackface and other blatantly racist imagery in collections and on runways, which affects their businesses. Those businesses have had to build out PR campaigns to change public perception of their brands. They’ve had to recruit D&I talent and build out diversity teams to advise them internally. Not having an understanding of the racist history as it relates to fashion cost them money, resources, and considerable blows to brand perception.

Another example of how fashion history touches the fashion business is cultural appropriation and erasure in design. Time and time again, we’ve seen fashion brands stake claim to innovations or trends that originated from Black culture. We also see many Black designers, Black stylists, Black Costume Designers, and Black photographers are completely erased from fashion history or current fashion conversations that should include them. If you want to learn more about a society’s culture, look to fashion first. 

Fluker: You’re widely known on Twitter as the @bronze_bombSHEL with over 39K+ followers. How has social media amplified your work within the fashion space?

Christie: Social media has been the primary home for my content over the last three years. It has helped the stories I share and the conversations I start around Blackness in fashion reach an audience of people who would not otherwise be interested in fashion. People who aren’t working in the fashion industry, or even remotely vested in this designer or that collection, engage with me about race, class, and culture and how these things relate to fashion. I believe social media has allowed me to shift how fashion is covered and discussed in the broader ethos. In 2017 there might have been a handful of us consistently discussing Blackness and diversity related to fashion. Now there is a wave of content dedicated to this topic. I believe my social media content has a lot to do with driving those conversations and planting them way before it was taboo to discuss them openly. Even the format in which I present my content has changed the way fashion is covered. I aim to make fashion and the topics I discuss accessible to everyone who wants to learn. Because it’s social media, the content doesn’t have to fit Chicago style or MLA format. I can express it in a way that’s natural for me and accessible to others. I use memes and align the topics with popular culture to get people to engage. My method is not traditional, but now I see my style/format of presenting fashion content adopted across the landscape. I think social media has enabled Black fashion stories to reach a mass audience and has changed how fashion content is presented for the better.

I’m blessed that brand and industry voices look to me for my expertise, thoughts, and opinions. My primary objective when approaching partnerships is authenticity. My team and I want to be sure that anything I say yes to makes sense for the work that I do. Is the partnership going to genuinely help amplify Black fashion talent or the work they’ve done? Is it going to help get resources, information, or knowledge about Blackness in fashion? I’m also mindful to partner with teams or individuals who embody the spirit of the work. I want there to be synergies there. If the answers to those questions are yes, then a unique, informative, and, most importantly, the fun partnership can be formed.

Fluker: As an advocate for accessibility and diversity within the fashion industry, you also aim to elevate Black voices and designers. Share how your work provides a platform for Black people’s contributions to the industry while promoting new Black designers.

Christie: My platform balances deep-diving into the contributions of Black fashion figures of the past and amplifies the work of current Black fashion talent. It’s cool because many of the fashion figures from the past that I share are still here with us. So, I can encourage people to follow them and support their current work in real-time.

When it comes to new and current Black fashion talent, I love championing, supporting, and sharing them with my audience. It’s an honor to use my platform to encourage others to support Black fashion talent, shop Black designers, and introduce my audience to fresh Black fashion talent. 

Fluker: It’s no secret that the fashion industry has suffered due to COVID-19. How are you contributing to pushing the fashion industry forward in times of unprecedented change?

Christie: Most immediately, I’ve lent my platform to Black Costume Designers, who are also a part of the fashion industry but are often left out of industry conversations. Costume Design in TV and Film is how I came to know and love fashion. I am personally vested in ensuring Black costume designers get more visibility and credit for the fashion work they do on screen. However, during this pandemic, I needed to do so when many series and movies have halted filming, and Costumers, particularly Black customers, may have wholly stopped work. I’ve enjoyed hosting Stacy Beverly on my IG Live to discuss her fantastic costume of the early 2000s, cult-classic sitcom Girlfriends. I also had the great pleasure of talking with Beyonce’s Stylist and Black is King Costume Designer Zerina Akers about all of the cultural nuances in the costumes and styling in Black is King.

I’m continuing to do the work of highlighting and documenting Black fashion contributions on my platforms. However, I’ve actively partnered with brands and media to amplify Blackness in fashion beyond my social platforms to reach a broader audience. I am actively using my voice, knowledge, and platform to tell Black stories during COVID because as much as the industry as a whole is suffering under the weight of COVID implications, even more so, are our Black fashion talent.

Fluker: How has the fashion industry changed during COVID-19? Any suggestions on how to keep the industry afloat?

Christie: There have been ongoing changes. We’ve seen the traditional brick and mortar retail format take massive hits, we’ve seen layoffs sweep the industry, and demand/planning struggle to fulfill orders without delay. I don’t think there isn’t one area of the industry that hasn’t been impacted by COVID. However, there has been tremendous innovation, driven by Black designers, spurred by COVID. Telfar Clemons had wholly changed the pre-order/Hype format of selling products with his mass shopping bag pre-order last month. We saw Anifa Mvuemba make history as the first designer to host a fully AR virtual fashion show. Like Christopher John Rogers, Edvin Thompson, TLZ L’Femme, and Edwin Thompson, fashion designers continue to put out substantial collections during a pandemic. What I love most is that many grassroots. Black designers are popping up in the industry and bringing with them freshness. 

I think the pandemic is forcing creatives to sit still and examine what they want and how they want to execute things. We’re seeing individuals putting out their own ready to wear to like Wole Olosunde, who is leveraging his full-time career as a nurse during COVID to start a label inspired by human autonomy. We’re also seeing more Black women step into the grassroots design space during COVID. I believe that COVID has hit the fashion industry hard, but it’s the Black talent in the industry who have found a way to innovate despite that. Which what History has shown us time and time again. When we look back over the centuries, there is a long history of Black people throughout the diaspora having to grapple with struggle or lack and from that came innovation. 

Fluker: What’s next for you, Shelby?

Christie: I’m looking to get into TV and film writing for scripted and unscripted projects. I aim to work on TV/film projects that are period pieces, fashion related, or have content centers around Blackness. I’d also love to get into costume design. But they say if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. I’m remaining open to what opportunities come my way.

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