Russell Simmons Blames Macy's for the Lack of Diversity in Fashion Design

But he's pleased with JCPenney.
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But he's pleased with JCPenney.
Russell Simmons at the Ferragamo Signature event. Photo: BFA/Salvatore Ferragamo

Russell Simmons at the Ferragamo Signature event. Photo: BFA/Salvatore Ferragamo

Diversity is a hot topic in fashion these days — as it should be, given the noticeable absence of it on many fashion week runways, in editorial offices and on glossy covers. The latest prominent figure to lament the lack of diversity in the fashion design community is Russell Simmons, who blames one lone entity for the situation: Macy's.

With his urban fashion label Phat Farm, the Def Jam founder was a pioneer of hip hop-influenced fashion in the '90s and early aughts. In 2004, he sold the brand to clothing producer Kellwood for $140 million. Among his best memories from that time: "My first fashion show. My first distribution at Macy's. Helping to create a whole fashion revolution that put billions of dollars into hip hop and into the community," Simmons told Fashionista at the Ferragamo Gancio Studios event this week.

"My least memorable was Macy's buying it, discounting it and destroying hundreds and thousands of potential designers — destroying the entire revolution," he continued. "The whole economic revolution. There were billions of dollars, thousands of retailers that all died when Macy's discounted the top 100 designers and they have not one black designer."

Which is not completely true, as fellow hip hop/media mogul Sean "Puffy/Diddy" Combs's line Sean John is currently carried by Macy's, along with B Michael and Simmons's preppy "urban graduate"-inspired menswear label Argyleculture. But that didn't stop the famous yoga devotee from breaking his Zen to put the department store on blast for what he sees as lasting damage to the design community. "So all the young up and coming designers never got a break," he said.

Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren, Simmons and Macy's CMO Jeff Gennette during happier times at the Russell Simmons' Argyleculture fall 2010 menswear presentation. Photo: Jerritt Clark/Getty Images

Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren, Simmons and Macy's CMO Jeff Gennette during happier times at the Russell Simmons' Argyleculture fall 2010 menswear presentation. Photo: Jerritt Clark/Getty Images

"There were thousands of designers and there were hundreds of successful designers. Not only Akademiks and Sean John and Mecca and Enyce and Phat Farm and LRG and — oh my god, there were so many. They're gone. Never mind they're gone, it [took the opportunity away from] thousands of kids who wanted to be like them."

Just a quick fact check: Akademiks, founded in 1999, and LRG are still here, as is Enyce, which was purchased by Combs' Sean John in 2008. Combs, however, did sell Sean John Clothing's exclusive distribution rights to Macy's in 2011 (although with a net worth of $735 million, Puffy's probably doing just fine).

Facts aside, Simmons continued to rail against large retailers as a whole. "The department stores haven't let anybody new in," he ranted. "They didn't do it on purpose, but their diversity programs have not yielded one designer. Not one success story in 15 years, out of all the diversity programs, what good are they if they don't yield one designer?" Although, tell that to Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's, which carry Public School, founded by Sean John alums Maxwell Osborne and Dao Yi Chow in 2008. 

"I like that JCPenney is working harder on diversity," Simmons said. "Maybe they'll do something." And the outspoken mogul just might be putting his money where his mouth is. 

"[My label Argyleculture is] at Macy's," he added. "It's the only one and I'm moving it to Penneys."

Um, has anyone told Macy's yet? (A representative from Macy's did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)