Over the years we have all heard about the fight for diversity in the fashion industry. Whether it’s speaking out against discriminatory casting practices or obtaining access to capital in order start a label, African-Americans are constantly struggling to get the same recognition and opportunity as their white counterparts. Despite the difficulties and hurdles, there have been a tremendous amount of noteworthy African-Americans that have made their mark in the industry and are paving the way for others. From the sketch pad to the runway, I will be highlighting Blacks in fashion that you need to know in honor of Black History Month.
Andre Leon Talley
The front row of runway shows are not complete without Andre Leon Talley in attendance.Known for his dramatic capes that are customized for his tall frame, this former editor-at-large for American Vogue has been one of the most prominent and influential trendsetters who speaks out against designers for not featuring models of color. Talley is also an author and the current artistic director of Zappos Couture.
When you think of turbans and celebrity stylists, June Ambrose is the first to come to mind. The veteran stylist, author, and television personality is the mastermind who cultivated the style of many artists such as Mariah Carey, Jay-Z and Mary J. Bilge. Ambrose has work featured in over 150 music videos and is one of the most sought after stylists.
Always featuring an array of bold colors and prints, Tracy Reese paints the runway with her classic and feminine pieces, making her a standout amongst her fellow designers. Her chic designs have been a favorite amongst celebrities, including former First Lady Michelle Obama. The Detroit native has 3 labels, Plenty, Frock and the eponymous brand, Tracy Reese, catering to everyone from the professional woman to the free spirited fashionista.
Ann Lowe is recognized as the first African-American high-fashion designer. Picking up her skill from both her mother and grandmother who was an enslaved dressmaker, Ann Lowe began sewing and creating designs as early as age 6. Considered as “society’s best kept secret”, Lowe was highly selective in choosing who wore her designs. Despite not always getting the recognition she rightfully deserved due to discrimination, Lowe created garments for celebrities and the upper echelon such as the Rockefellers. However, Lowe is most known for being the designer responsible for Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding gown, now considered one of the most iconic dresses in fashion history.
Korto Momolu catapulted into the spotlight as a contestant and runner up on Bravo’s fashion television competition show, Project Runway. The Liberian born designer specializes in womenswear and accessories that infuses bright colors and her West African heritage. Momolu’s designs have been worn by the President of her country, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Miss Universe Leila Lopes.
Laura Smalls proves that preparation plus commitment and opportunity equals success. The designer has been in the industry for quite some time but was given a nudge by Andre Leon Talley after seeing her work at a gala. Smalls was ultimately thrusted into the public eye when Michelle Obama wore a custom dress at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
This Washington Post Fashion Editor has made a reputation with her blunt and boundary pushing commentary. In fact, Givhan was the first fashion critic to be awarded with the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2006. Jennifer Lopez, Dick Cheney and Hilary Clinton are just a few of the many victims that have been on the receiving end of Givhan’s tough jabs. Besides serving her dose of honesty,Givhan’s essays have shed light to how fashion contributes to everyday culture.
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