August 21, 2009
omg, did you miss me? I know I know! 🙂 I’m back now, so I have to give you, your blog fix.
So I have been thinking about my ” Million Dollar Question” post on black designers after the huge/great response it received in addition to the release of the Italian Vogue ” Black” issue. I am going to address both topics today.
So I am not retracting my beliefs that there are no black people doing what I believe we are capable of in the fashion industry, making it to the Gucci, Fendi, Prada status, because there aren’t any. I just believe that black designers face a lot of challenges and disadvantages when it comes to the industry. As you have read many of the designers I have featured came from or married into money. Those who didn’t, like Oscar de le Renta, had to work extremely hard to get to where they are. They also had strategic business moves and connections that helped propel them into popularity. A lot of black designers didn’t have those luxuries, but some designers did try.
Aside from the few designers I named in my previous post, there are a few more that deserve mention. I don’t want to forget to at least acknowledge reality TV designers, Mychael Knight and Korto Momolu from project runway. They were good designers and still are. They are both making a name for themselves in niche markets, Mychael in ATL and Korto making accessories.
The problem there is that they didn’t win these shows so they really haven’t had the opportunity to make it big like, say….
There are also the designers that I am not always too proud to mention, those are the entertainers/entertainers family members turned “designers.” Now the reason I feel I need to talk about these people is that they made up the majority of ” BET’s list of Top Black Designers.” Which included people like the Simmon’s sister for Pastry, Beyonce and her mother for House of Dereon, Jay Z for Rocawear, Kimora Lee Simmons for Baby Phat, and the list started to taper off into the real “street fashion” like Apple bottoms, Vocal, and Billionaire Boys Club by Pharrell. While I am proud of all the designers for doing what they love and for what they have accomplished, I never believe in making clothing that I would never, ever wear. I know there is a market for everything, but morally I don’t want to be responsible for young woman exploiting their bodies and some of these lines I think contribute to and profit from that epidemic.
Ok, so the list did include 3 designers that I think are worth mentioning, Sean Combs, Benjamin Bixby, and Tracy Reese. Now Sean Combs, believe it or not, is a member of the CFDA and has won an award in 2004 for menswear designer of the year. In case you don’t understand what that means, no black people have won that yet, sooo. I mean we all love to hate him but the guy is doing his thing ! His fragrance ‘I AM KING’ won the Fragrance Foundation 2009 FiFi Award for Fragrance of the Year for men as well. He must have a great team helping him along. He also has the money to be the best and I’m glad he is taking advantage of that.
Benjamin Bixby, better known as Andre 3000. I just wanted to mention him because his style is so quirky and I love it. He also got into Barney’s and was featured (positively) on The Cut blog. His line never got a lot of hype and is practically dead now, but he had a nice shot. He stuck to what he liked and he designed clothing that I know he would wear which is respectable. Do him a favor and buy his last shirt from Barneys.com, please !! 🙂
Last but not least Tracy Reese. See now , our girl Tracy Reese is really doing her thing. She, too, is a member of the CFDA ( one of literally the handful of black people that are members) like Diddy. Well like many of the other successful designers, she studied in Paris as an apprentice. She attended Parsons School for Design and she also worked as the design director for the Women’s Portfolio at Perry Ellis. She has become known for her flowy, feminine dresses and vintage inspired separates that were and still are picked up by Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and other high end boutiques as well as in Europe and Asia.
One of her dresses was also worn by Michelle Obama on the cover of People Magazine. This is a huge deal because First Lady Obama has come under a lot of heat for not wearing African American designers. She chose to wear one of the best African American designers she could find. In fact her hubby, Mr. President himself, wore a suit by Oswald ( remember, from my previous post) in Ghana. Now all the critics can calm down because they have done their part. It’s not there fault there aren’t many options.
Anyways, Tracy Reese has a profile on NYmag.com and everything. Her Jazz Age inspired style has been a big hit across color lines and I can only hope she continues to grow. Check out some looks from her recent lines.
Another designer that was not mentioned on BET’s list, but should have been, is Edward Wilkerson. From the age of 10 he knew he wanted to design. He went to an Art and Design high school in Manhattan and then on to Parsons School of Design. He worked with top designers like Donna Karen and worked in successful fashion houses like Anne Klein and Calvin Klein. He received the honor from Donna Karan to become a designer for the Donna Karan collection. After working with Donna for 13 years he was fired, but later told he could join her again at anytime.
In 1998 he joined Lafayette 148 New York as Design Director. While at Lafayette he uses his inspiration from Africa and his passion for photography to guide him in the clothing creation process.
What I love about him is that he built up the Lafayette 148 and he also has plus sized clothing which don’t look like crap. However, I do think his price points are EXTREMELY high for a designer that is not that well known. I also am very confused about Lafayette 148’s ownership . No where does it say he started it, but merely he built up the brand. He didn’t join until 1998 and it was started in 1996. With that said, I am strong advocate of ownership, and I hope that he has some in that company because his designs are great and I would hate to see him taken advantage of like so many other designers ( black and other races).
Finally, let me not forget to tell you how I feel about the black Italian Vogue. I think it was a good thought however if they wanted to give black people the chance in the fashion industry that we are so often denied, they could have done it all the way. I think it should have featured black designers, black stylists, black make up artist, black editors, and black writers. I mean, I know the Vogue people are giving us an inch and I am taking a mile, but who says we don’t deserve a mile? Who knows, people might actually like what black people have to offer to the fashion world, wouldn’t that be a shocker? ( sarcasm)
ok loves, until next time. Sorry for the opinion overdose, but hey I’m sure you learned something lol.
Citations: within entry
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.