The Million Dollar Question: Can You Name One Black High Fashion Designer?
July 31, 2009
I spent a good solid hour and a half searching the internet for a Black fashion designers that are as influencing as the people I have already written about.
I have to say that this was a challenging task. I did find some designers, but they were all problematic. This brings me to today’s blog post.
Enough explaining, let’s get started.
I am extremely impressed with Byron because his designs are very chic and elegant. He only gives us subtle hints that he is trying to reach out to the urban market, but he doesn’t make that his platform like other designers we know ( won’t name any names).
Born on January 19, 1965 in Oakland, CA he was destined to design after making his own baggy pants in the tenth grade. In high school he made extra money by sewing prom dresses for friends in high school. He attended Brooks College in CA and studied fashion design before heading to FIT. He took an apprenticeship with Kevan Hall and freelanced for Ronaldus Shamask and Gary Gaytas. His strengths in pattern making began to surface quickly. WWD picked up on this young designer and named him Rockie of the year in 1991 after he launched his first collection in 1990. He was working out of his home and a strict budget before calls began to flow in from Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, and other high end department stores. Next thing he knew, Bloomingdales was giving him a boutique section in its Manhattan store. Sakes Fifth Avenue held an unconventional launch party for his line. For a young designer he was selling better than and outlasting his peers. His fall of 1992 line confirmed him again as a force to be watching in the fashion world.
Why You Don’t Know Him: Licensing his designs to a company called San Siro in 1995 was his mistake. This then made his clothes available in discount stores and outlets. It was the beginning of his first decline in sales since his success. Why go to Bloomingdales and buy his stuff for $230 when you can get it for $39 at an outlet? It was way too early for that.
He then had to quit his business and work for Mattel designing for Barbie. Soon after he gained some of his fame back and began his label called Beauty Mark Label which is a collection of tailored shirts for women. Now he is expanding to include knits, sportswear, dresses, and sexy shirts.
He is doing fairly well in his business now. Thought he was destined for bigger and better things before the licensing mistake, he still pulled himself back up and is trying to make a way for himself, even if he had to sacrifice his run with all the major departments stores for the little boutiques he is sold in now.
His first collection was a Men’s contemporary line that was picked up by Marshall Fields in Chicago ( which is not replaced by Macy’s I believe). His success inspired him to move to NY and take up a entry level job with a women’s apparel designer. With the new job he learned skills that allows him to launch his own label CD Greene, which cloth a lot of Hollywood stars today.
Now he designs exclusively for private clients using each of their personalities to inspire his designs. He still sells some dresses for a couple of thousand of dollars.
Why You Don’t Know Him: To me, the idea that his website is barely functional, he has no collection past fall 07, and the idea that he has stayed in his comfort zone regardless of how much potential he had, kind of bothers me.
His dresses are beautiful and he has the potential to be awesome, but I can not understand why he is limiting himself so much. I do not think there is any excuse why he isn’t a household name like many of his peers who may not be as good as him.
In 1971 and 1972 he was nominated for the Coty Award as the industry began to take notice. He was then asked to participate in a fashion show in 1973 that would be a collaboration between well known French and American designers. This is when Burrows finally won the Coty Award 3 times , 1983, 1974, and 1977. Quickly he left Henri Bendel to open his store on Seventh Avenue and licensed products like fragrances, sunglasses, and furs.
In 2002 he reopened his Stephen Burrow’s World Boutique in Bendel’s with the party of the season, as dubbed by Vogue. This was followed by a successful run in 2003 on Home Shopping Network. In 2006 he was give The Board of Directors Special Tribute from the CFDA.
He is most known for the “lettuce hems” which was his signature and remains widely used in addition to his bold use of color, structure and fabric weight.
Why you don’t know him: Honestly, there really isn’t any excuse for not knowing Stephen. However, his collections are not heavily publicised. I also believed that not having his own stores around the country to really put his brand in the eyes of the public was a mistake. He worked under different powers for most of his career, for example in Bendels and on HSN, and that took some of his edge off. I wouldn’t buy anything from Bendel’s if it was on HSN all watered down and discounted. I don’t know if it is the money or what that is driving these people to Walmart-ize their clothing before its time.
He won an award in 2004 for Young Avant Garde Designer of the Year in London and in 2006 when he won first place in Fashion Fringe, a prestigious award in London. With his win he was able to get business, legal, and technical support and was able to show his collection at the London Fashion Week in March 2007.
He took a course called Prince’s Trust Business Start Up Course which helped him make a business plan for his label of urban couture, fashion for women who want to express themselves through their clothing.
He showed his debut collection in 2005 at the Caribbean Fashion Week and at the Barbados Fashion week in 2006. He took part in the Mayor of London’s Kulture2Couture show that featured the talents of designers. He show cased his second collection at the Paris Fashion Week in Oct. 2006 and later that year in Brooklyn Fashion Week.
Why you don’t know him: Simple, Press. I have NEVER EVER heard his name mentioned. His clothing is very original and was really ahead of his time. His Spring 08 line has things that I can see celebs and regular people trying to get their hands on today. But if we don’t know him, how do we support him?
I mean he doesn’t even have a website I can look at, his NY mag designer profile is skimp, and I googled,binged, msn searched, and yahoo searched him and only found 3 websites that told me nothing ! I hate to see him fade away forever because he has a lot of potential. Someone get him some PR STAT!
In 1999 he had the privilege of being the first designer to appear on Question Time with David Dimbleby. The next year he was honored with the British Fashion Award of Top Menswear Designer.
He got his American break when Will Smith work his bespoke to the Oscars and was named best dressed. That same year he won Best Male Designer by the Cologne Fashion Awards.
Why we don’t know him: It is because he did not keep his name out there for a long time after winning all his critical acclaim. He dove very quickly into the creative director position which hinders a person from their own creativity. While he is still making suits he does not have a store in the US and that is why his name is not heard. I still respect his work, but I really wish he would have become his own Givenchy and not gone to work for them.
Born in Detroit, Kevan wanted to be a designers from the age of Seven. After studying at Cass Technical High School in Detroit, there he won first place as “Designer of Tomorrow” which gave him a scholarship to FIDM. When he graduated from FIDM he won the Peacock Award for Outstanding Fashion Design.”
In 1982 he and his wife launched Kevan Hall Couture which is carried in fine department stored nation wide. He received the Great American Designer award from the NAACP in 1989. In 1992 he was honored by the Center of Performing Arts in Southern Cali. He won designer of the year from Gold Coast Fashion Awards in Chicago and in 2005 the “Style maker of the Year” award by Life & Style Mag.
What is really good about Hall is he rejects trends and fads to make a lasting look that comes to life when women wear his clothing.
Why we don’t know him: I have no idea. I think its another case of publicity. His shows are chic and elegant and better than a lot of his peers but he just doesn’t have a lot of hype surrounding him. I can’t understand why, I mean his runway looks are amazing so what is the deal? Though some of his clothing are if-y, that is no different from everyone else’s collection. Let’s support him because he is soo worth it.
So that is the end of my list. Now you can see the industry needs some diversity on the production end as well as in the displaying end ( models), but we are getting there. These designers need our support but they also need to help themselves. More press surrounding their clothing is a plus. You can still focus on the quality of your clothing while shouting off the rooftop that you have arrived, other wise how will we know who you are.
There are other designers like Tracy Reese who had a short run on her own until she ran into production problems then went to work for Magaschoni and made the company a lot of money. Peter Kea who had a lot of potential but stupidly signed over the rights to his name way too soon to his backers. He recently got back on his feet selling clothing in boutiques around the world.
A lot of the issues with these designers is the lack of help that they had getting up in the world. They didn’t have any financial helpers, they didn’t have rich people surrounding them, none of that. These designers are lacking in little areas that if fixed they would have gotten as big or even bigger as some of their peers.
What us rising designers can do is learn from their mistakes so that we can use them as guidelines as we tap into the high fashion world. Remember it’s not always about the money, it’s about making quality clothing and doing something you love, money will inevitably flow in when you work hard and do the best you can.
So to all my black designers, and struggling designers of all races, don’t give up and don’t sell out, just keep pushing to the top with your morals and talents to guide you.