Reflective cotton jacket, wool skirt, Mugler. Boots, Personal.

Boasting a total of 160,000 followers, journalist and influencer Louis Pisano is part of a new generation of fashion critics who are not afraid to challenge the industry.

A quick look at their Instagram and Twitter accounts is enough to get a feel for the character. Strong of a witty and sharp voice full of pop culture references, Louis Pisano, who collaborates with renowned press titles such as Vogue France and Harper’s Bazaar, comments on fashion news, shares their opinion on collections and celebrities’ looks, and never fails to call out luxury brands when they venture out into slippery slopes. As a true agitator in the industry, they have little hesitation in taking them to task. Raised on the East Coast of the United States, this thirty-year-old chose, almost ten years ago, to live the European dream; first in Milan, then in Paris. Halfway between fashion critic, it-boy and content creator. “Black, Queer and non-binary” as they define themself, Louis Pisano has managed to make a name for themself in the industry, thanks to their remarkable achievements and their flamboyant outfits.

MIXTE. A few months ago, you mentioned on Instagram that leaving Milan for Paris was one of the best decisions you ever made…
Simply because, compared to the eight years I spent in Milan, it was easier to make a real place and name for myself in Paris’ industry. Over here, there are more people like me achieving great things. They paved the way for me. Even if the diversity and inclusiveness is not optimal yet, there are clearly more opportunities. So it’s been easier for me to show my talent, to work and to have access to the key people in this field.

M. Wasn’t that the case in Milan?
Not at all! Over there, I had to find ways of getting people to talk about me, to be seen and heard, to challenge the Italian fashion world on its issues and lack of diversity. I’ve had to act as a whistleblower in the press, exposing the injustice and acts of discrimination I saw and heard about. It was a shock to the industry in Milan. Italians really care about the image they reflect. An African-American turning up and not only pointing the finger at important people and brands, but also highlighting and calling out racist or transphobic acts and words, was not something they were used to before I got there.

M. In your opinion, why is there such a difference between Paris and Milan?
Simply put, Paris is a more diverse city, which is reflected in the fashion scene. In Milan, when I was on my way out, some semblance of initiatives were just about emerging. I was part of a collective called “Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion”. The mission was to raise awareness among fashion houses, the Italian equivalent of the British Fashion Council or Council of Fashion Designers of America. Virgil Abloh was also part of it. I think that at the moment, this industry in Italy still doesn’t know what position to take on these issues. It’s probably not even a concern of theirs. I’m glad that my racialised friends have more jobs in fashion today than they used to. But is the situation ideal? Not really. It feels like it’s all about quotas. Their talent remains underappreciated.

Cotton sweat-shirt, Mugler. Pantalon, Personal.

M. Have you always been that straightforward and honest in the way you speak?
L.P. In class, I was that child who didn’t hesitate to talk back to the teachers. The one who was punished for lack of respect. I have always defended my opinions with great passion and I like them to be heard, or at least acknowledged. I will say that after years of experiencing racism and queerphobia in Milan, I started to speak out more on these topics on social media. Of course, people didn’t want to work with me. But I didn’t really care. I was ready to go back to the States and work in a completely different field. And there’s one thing I can’t stand: when everybody, a whole industry is aware of certain things and nobody talks about it. It makes me sick.

M. You must have suffered the consequences…
L.P. Of course! I heard that I was driven by jealousy, by a lack of talent. That I was doing all this because my blogging career hadn’t taken off. That I was looking for attention… Gradually, some people – including important people – started writing to me, telling me about behind-the-scenes events, incidents that were happening within brands, reposting my Instagram stories. My account had become the industry’s complaint desk.

M. What is the biggest revelation you ever made?
L.P. It’s not news I personally revealed, it was already a little known. But I made it public outside Milan, you could say. During a Fashion Week in 2013, a “Disco Africa” event was organised with several fashion celebrities. Some of them appeared in blackface (a racist practice where white people will masquerade as a Black person by painting their faces black, inspired by the American minstrels shows of the 19th century). I sent videos to the Fashion Bomb Daily website, which published them, quoting me. There was no real follow-up, not even a public apology. Then, in 2020, during the anti-racist protests that followed the murder of George Floyd by police officers in the United States, I saw that several prominent members of the industry were making a big deal about it on social networks. I decided to refresh everyone’s memory with these images of blackface and screenshots of people commenting that “Black people should be happy to be celebrated”. This caused a lot of noise. Some people had to make public apologies. Versace was forced to block the comments on their Instagram because their social media manager was quoted. I think it was a moment that made everyone face their responsibilities in this “new world”.

M. Following George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent movement against the lack of representation and inclusiveness in fashion, many brands tried to prove that they were above suspicion. In your opinion, is this a momentary effort or has there been a radical and permanent change?
L.P. I think brands are on autopilot somewhat. At the beginning, many talked about giving to charities and NGOs, setting up grants, etc. Then nothing happened. Now it’s just a matter of making sure you have at least two or three racialised models in your campaigns.

Cotton spiral jeans, upcycled Lycra high-tech corset, Mugler.

M. How do you react to brands getting in touch with you these days when they were snubbing you a few years ago.
I remain professional. I also use it as a bargaining tool. I will say, “OK, now you want to work with me, but remember our relationship in the past.” I make sure that things have actually changed internally, that they don’t just want to work with me to improve their image. And whatever the project is, I push it to the limit so that we don’t just have a surface representation but that we really change the game. Every time, we always go further than the initial brief. That said, I still refuse to work with many brands by giving them my reasons.

M. You are now recognized in your field, signing one contract after another and developing many partnerships. Aren’t you afraid that being so outspoken will limit your opportunities somehow?
 The dynamic is different now. Although I am still as frank as ever, today I know the people who work within the system, with the brands, and with whom I have developed real relationships. Even if they don’t always agree with me and my approach, they understand my reasons and motives. When something happens, it allows me to contact them directly to find out what it’s all about instead of talking about it and calling them out on social media, although I still do that sometimes. I actually want brands to learn from their mistakes. Like the time Diesel took the Black Lives Matter hashtag and turned it into Black Friday Matter last autumn. I had met artistic director Glenn Martens sometime before the Hyères Festival. So I could have contacted him directly, but I wanted to spark a conversation about it, so that everyone (his followers, editor’s note) could express why it was awkward. And so that Diesel wouldn’t be too quick to brush it off for fear I’d post it. So I posted the image in my story, and people reposted it. Glenn saw it, asked me about it, and let me know that he would bring it up and talk to HR about it to get it resolved. I think he would have preferred me to delete my story. But again, it’s important to hold brands accountable.

M. Why did you choose to go into fashion?
To be honest, I always wanted to live a fancy life. The strass and the glitter, that made me dream. I wanted to be known. And I saw the fashion world as an extension of celebrity and pop culture. In this environment, you can live out dreams, fantasies, before they become real. The catwalks, the parties, the bling… it may not be your everyday lifestyle, but for a while it can be. I’ve always liked that aspect.

M. You grew up in a conservative USian family. Did this influence your vision and how you were existing in this society?
At home, I heard a lot of: “You can’t do this, you can’t do that”. I would inevitably ask “Why?” And the answer was always: “Because you are told so”. So as I grew up, I learned to challenge everything, to understand why things were the way they were. If nobody has the answer, then I’ll find out on my own.

M. You’re not afraid to voice your opinion and share your militant stance on social media… Between what people think and their possible reactions afterwards, it can be damaging to your mental health. How do you deal with it?
I’ve definitely gone through a few mental breakdowns, even publicly on Instagram and Twitter. It can be really exhausting, especially when brands are involved in conversations, debates, verbal jousting, etc. and when you’re expected to speak out on every topic and news item. Some days the first thing I do when I get up is pick up my phone and think about what I’m going to post, what I’m going to say. At times, it feels like my Instagram account is a news channel. But newspapers have entire teams dedicated to that. I do everything on my own. There are times when you have to take a step back from it all. I sometimes delete apps from my phone for a given period of time. I stop putting energy into it and redirect it to myself instead.

Reflective cotton jacket, wool skirt, Mugler. Boots, Personal.

M.  When it comes to inclusiveness and racism, the fashion world seems to be playing the “one step forward two steps back” game. What would it take to bring about real change?
It’s a very narrow-minded industry. On the whole people in this field more concerned with keeping up appearances than changing things. Fashion is still very elitist yet pretends to be open. It’s somewhat changing as people from the new generation are getting into positions of power, but the people who have the final say are older and don’t see how the world around them is changing. Usually when these pundits don’t understand the issues at play, it frustrates them, which slows down the whole process. They don’t take the time to learn, to educate themselves with the right people because they are afraid of not being relevant anymore.

M. You started out as an outsider and now you are part of the system. Which is better to change things: in or out?
I think about it very often. I think in some ways it was easier for me to act as an outsider. because I had nothing to lose. When I look at my earlier stories, I would talk about people, tag their names. I would never do that today. As I said, I’m more focused on being educational now. Which is better? I’m not sure, to be honest. I’m still trying to figure it out. It’s true, when you’re an insider, you’re more aware of what you can and can’ t do. It’s a bit like making a pact with the devil.

M. In an interview, you stated that you were not always comfortable with your identity as a Black and Queer man.
I was adopted by a white, conservative, Catholic, Donald Trump supporter father… As a young, Black, Queer, flamboyant teenager, I didn’t feel the most validated at home. I was very sensitive, and for a long time I tried to get approval from the people in my family. I didn’t have any Black friends, I didn’t want to be around Black people. I tried to look like a typical young white man from a good family in a Ralph Lauren polo shirt. I defended my position as a Republican.

M. What triggered you to change your mindset?
Everything changed when I moved to Europe. I wanted a fresh start, away from the values and ideas of my family in the US. I started to hang around Black people more. I recall a not-so-fortunate anecdote: one day, a friend of mine of Nigerian origin went on holiday to his country and we were exchanging tweets. Until then, I wouldn’t have imagined that he could connect to the internet over there. From that moment on, I realized that I had a lot to learn and that I had to open my mind. Especially for myself. I was not familiar with my own culture, with the culture of people who looked like me. I realised I had wasted a lot of time trying to be the perfect little Republican.

M. In Europe, we are less inclined to talk openly about race and discrimination than in the United States. Yet that’s where you were able to be more in tune with your identity.
Yes, because it was a whole new environment for me. I didn’t have any baggage here. It was a blank page that allowed me to be who I wanted to be. And after being pressured by my family and the environment I grew up in, I finally learnt to be myself.

M. What does it look like to be Black and Queer in fashion today?
For me, it means continuing to stir things up in this field, in art and culture. To have fun too and bring an energy, a vibe, that only we have the secret to.

This article was originally published in our spring-summer 2022 issue MIXTE: COMMITMENT, in february 2022.

Cotton trench-coat, Mugler.

Photos: Nicolas Wagner / Styling: Victor Vergara / Grooming: Émilie Plume @ Artists Unit / Assistant photographer: Sofiane Vincent.