Black Fashion Designers Exhibit

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So I had a chance to check out the Black Fashion Designers exhibit at The Museum at FIT in NYC. Ever since it came out back in early December of last year, I was dying to check out this exhibit. I’m glad I had a chance to make it there because some of the dresses and ensembles are beautiful. 

This exhibit explores a few generations of African-American and African fashion designers from the era of the 1950’s to current. According to what I have learned, black designers have been too often gone unrecognized and underrepresented. The exhibit gives us an idea about the challenges faced by black designers, as well as how their experiences have changed over time. 

If you have not had a chance to check out the exhibit, don’t worry you still have time it’s there until May 16th so if you have a chance go to NYC to check it out. 


Left: Signature heart motif dress designed by Patrick Kelly | Right: Ensemble designed by Duro Oluwu

Patrick Kelly’s signature heart motif and mismatched buttons served as symbols for his love of women fashion, and his own heritage. Patrick Kelly was born in Mississippi; He established his company in Paris in 1985 with partner Bjorn Amelan. He was the first American designer admitted to the chamber syndicate du pret-a-porter. (Fall 1986, France, Material: Wool and plastic)

Duro Olowu’s international success arises from a strong visual cross-cultural aesthetic, quality of the cut and the fabric, and an appreciation for the female form. He masterfully embraces bricolage, vibrantly mixing colors, prints and textures. Duro Olowu says “This is how women wear clothes in contemporary Africa….It’s an offbeat, strong aesthetic that influences my work.” (Fall 2012, England, Material: Cotton and silk lace, silk charmeuse, wool and silk crepe)



Silk dress designed by Jon Weston

Jon Weston attended FIT and designed this dress for his graduation show that took place in 1955. Audrey Smaltz modeled it, then wore it again in a 1961 Ebony advertisement. Jon Weston struggled with fashion industry  discrimination and had financial difficulties during the 1960’s, but persevered to establish a successful studio on Seventh Avenue by the 1970’s. (1955, United States, Material: Silk)



Left: Pantsuit designed by WilliWear | Right: Dress designed by Tracy Reese

WilliWear was founded by Will Smith in 1976 with partner Laurie Mallet. He soon established a reputation for fun and accessible sportswear such as this multi-stripe suit. Women’s Wear Daily reported that the company went from $30,000 in sales the first year to $5 million the second year. Will Smith opened stores in New York, London and Paris. (Circa 1984, United States, Material: Cotton, cotton knit)

My favorite designer Tracy Reese focuses the design of her joyful, feminine styles, such as this ethereal dress, on the needs of real women, including our former First Lady Michelle Obama. Tracy Reese concentrates on the details of her business, stating “Any good designer is also interested in business, because we are often entrepreneurs. (Spring 2016, United States, Material: Silk organza, stretch rayon blend)



Two-piece evening dress designed by Stephen Burrows

The “lettuce” hem on the top and skirt was created by mistake when Stephen Burrows’s assistant happened to overstretched a jersey hem. Stephen Burrows wind up liking the look making it his signature element. The outfit was featured in the famous fashion show called Battle of Versailles, which catapulted his career onto the international stage. (1973, United States, Material: Silk Chiffon)


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Left: Dress and jacket designed by Patrick Robinson | Right: Dress designed by Olivier Rousteing (Balmain)

Patrick Robinson constructed this royal blue dress from vintage silk kimonos. In a manner similar to Paco Rabanne, he pieced material together to create a unique design. Patrick Robinson has played an instrumental role in reviving the legacy of not only Paco Rabanne, but also brands such as Anne Klien, Perry Ellis, and Armani White Label. (Spring 2006, France, Material: Silk, cotton, swan feathers)

Oliver Rousteing personally selected this design for the exhibit. He says “When the craziness meets craftsmanship, that is what I call couture.” The open work detail on this dress was created from hand-woven raffia and was inspired by the traditional Cuban wicker chairs. Oliver Rousteing explains that when he was appointed the creative director of Balmain at age 26, people were not only shocked by his age, but his race. (Spring 2013, France, Material: Raffia, silk, rhinestones)


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Kente cloth from Ghana

Kente cloth is an Asante and Ewo, strip-woven fabric from Ghana and Togo. It was originally worn to indicate royal or religious status as it became widespread on the Gold Coast by the late 19th century. Many African-Americans have adopted the kente pattern as a pan-African symbol of their roots. (1940s, Ghana, Material: Silk )


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Middle: Mini Swarovski crystal dress designed by CD Greene

Bergdorf Goodman was an early supporter of CD Greene and first featured his designs in its window display in June 1990. Back in 1996, He was commissioned to create Tina Turner’s wardrobe for her Wildest Dreams tour. This mini dress he selected a sheer white net and Swarovski crystals to contrast with Tina Turner’s skin, so she would stand out on stage. (1996, United States, Material: Nylon net, Swarovski crystals)



Designed by Jon Weston

Jon Weston was known for his evening gowns and for outfitting beauty pageant contestants, including Miss America in 1973. This late 1950’s pleated evening coat is a departure from this popular hourglass silhouette seen in his other work. It is an innovative design, standing away from the body, much more reflective of contemporary Parisian couture silhouettes. (Circa 1957, United States, Material: Faille)


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Left: Rainbow dress designed by Stephen Burrows | Right: Fuchsia ensemble designed by Geoffrey Holder

Stephen Burrows pieced together luminescent strips of jersey on the bias to create this dress. It was looked at as stretching rainbow over the body. A few years after graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), he opened his own boutique inside Bendel called Stephen Burrows’ World. (1973, United States, Material: Rayon jersey)

Geoffrey Holder is considered to be a renaissance man of dance, art and design, loved bold color, rich embellishment, and dramatic silhouettes. He brought this vibrant aesthetic to everything he touched, from his costumes for Broadway musicals to his fine art paintings. He created this richly embroidered fuchsia ensemble for his wife, dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade. (1980s, United States, Material: Silk, gold thread, sequins, pearls, beads)


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Laura Smalls brings decades of experience at major fashion companies to her sophisticated  label. Leon Talley was impressed by her designs that he encouraged her to show at New York Fashion Week back in 2009. This dress was seen on Michelle Obama, who famously wore this red floral design on The Late Late Show with James Corden. (Spring 2016, United States, Material: Cotton blend jacquard)



Beverly Johnson on the August 1974 Vogue cover

Beverly Johnson became the first African-American model to be featured on the cover of Vogue. The photographer at the time Francesco Scavullo “didn’t shy away from her race or depict her as an other. Instead, he presented a vision of elegant beauty that was relatable and real and totally of her era, “said Vogue. (August 1974, New York: Condé Nast, Photographer: Francesco Scavullo)



Vogue Italia cover in July 2008

A July 2008 issue of Vogue Italia, titled “A Black Issue,” was lauded for its exclusive use of black models and editorials. The popularity of the edition prompted a reprint of 60,000 additional copies. (July 2008, Milan: Condé Nast, Photographer: Steven Meisel)

For more information about the Black Fashion Designers exhibit, check out The Museum at FIT website click here. Black Fashion Designers is currently running at The Museum at FIT in NYC from December 6, 2016-May 16, 2017.


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