|Patrick Kelly 1989 & Duro Olowu 2012|
Photos by Laurel Marcus
Click images for full size views
|Edward Wilkerson, Martin Cooper, Patrick Robinson, Olivier Rousteing|
|Stephen Burrows, Scott Barrie, Fabrice Simon|
The exhibition culls together many of the most popular (and some that are a bit under the radar) African and African-American designers from the 1950's to the present with 75 looks from the museum's permanent collection. Interestingly, although they were still segregated within the fashion industry, black designers began to gain recognition in the late 1940's.
Ann Lowe, B. Michael,CD Greene (worn by Tina Turner),
& Bruce Oldfield (Designed for Princess Diana
|Eric Gaskins, Kevan Hall, LaQuan Smith (worn by Kim Kardashian), Lawrence Steele,|
Rubin and Chapelle
Many black designers traditionally made their mark on the industry with eveningwear, which is showcased here including onetime Hubert de Givenchy apprentice Eric Gaskin's 2014 black & white gown of crushed bugle beads inspired by a painting by Franz Kline, along with gowns by Cushnie & Ochs, B. Michael and Lawrence Steele, just to name a few. Others worked for New York manufacturers before establishing their own business such as Arthur McGee (who became the first African-American to run a design room of an established apparel company at Bobby Brooks), Wesley Tann and Jon Weston.
|Willi Smith, Tracy Reese, Charles Harbison|
In the late '60s, "black is beautiful" became a familiar phrase ushering in the 1970's as the era of the black designer who popularized new modes of dress for the disco music era. Stephen Burrows (of the "accidental" discovery -- the over stretched fabric which became the lettuce edged dress), Scott Barrie, Fabrice Simon, James Daugherty and Jon Haggins all reveled in creating the unstructured, body-conscious, jersey looks that lent themselves to dancing all night at Studio 54.
|Beverly Johnson Vogue cover|
Black models increased their visibility thanks to events such as the annual Ebony Fashion Fair (where Pat Cleveland was discovered), as well as the all-important and ever-historic 1973 "Battle of Versailles" with its 10 energetic black fashion models on the runway, capturing the world's attention and putting American fashion on the map. Beverly Johnson broke barriers as the first woman of color on the cover of the August 1974 edition of American Vogue. In the background, a video monitor featuring journalist and author of the book "The Battle of Versailles" Robin Givhan, in conversation about model diversity with Riley Montana, Bethann Hardison and model Veronica Webb.
|Patrick Kelly, Stella Jean, Lisa Folawiyo, Mimi Plange, Aisha Ayensu|
Fashion of the 1980's would not be complete without stars such as Patrick Kelly whose button dress was inspired by his southern grandma who sewed mismatched buttons on his clothing. This dress was worn and promoted by Bette Davis on the David Letterman Show in 1987 and is featured at the entrance to the exhibition. Willi Smith of Williwear was another designer at the top when he too succumbed to AIDS. The exhibition contains a section on African influences including kente cloth, patterns and textiles in fashion with looks from Kelly, Stella Jean, Lisa Folawiyo, Mimi Plange and Aisha Ayensu. Gotta love the Stella Jean/Christian Louboutin "evil eye" boots featured here. Duro Olowu's multi-colored ensemble, featured next to Kelly's at the exhibition entrance, would also fit in here.
|Isaia Rankin, Dapper Dan of Harlem, Cross Colours, Pyer Moss,|
Off-White (Virgil Abloh)
|Byron Lars, Patrick Kelly|
To enhance your visit (or give a sneak preview of what you'll find here) check out the Black Fashion Designers cellphone tour (you'll need headphones) at www.blackfashiondesigners.oncell.com. It works sans headphones on the computer too.
- Laurel Marcus