Prominent Black designer Byron Lars had an intimate conversation about his foray into fashion and the lack of diversity in the industry with Pratt Fashion professor Adrienne Jones during the school’s second Black Dress: Salon on Feb. 15.
The Black Dress concept was developed and curated by Jones in 2014, the same year in which Lars became the recipient of the Pratt Fashion Visionary Award. She intended to create a resource that would present the underrated influence that Black culture has on the fashion world as a whole.
The festive evening highlighted the contributions made by Lars in celebration of Black History Month and New York Fashion Week, with models wearing Byron Lars Beauty Mark, which he launched in 2001, a jazz music performance by Clarissa Sinceno and Aah Fro Blue and a video by artist Carrie Mae Weems.
During the onset of the discussion, Jones asked the Oakland, California-born designer what it means to be a Black designer. He told a small anecdote that ended with his friend saying, “I don’t know what it means to be a Black designer because I’ve never been a White designer.”
He began his own label in 1991, and only after his second season in business he won the coveted Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) Rookie of the Year Award. The success was almost instantaneous with prestigious retailers, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, selling his clothes.
Lars has seen a lot happen within fashion through the decades. When discussing the current climate of fashion, including much of the racial insensitivity at the hands of houses such as Prada and Gucci, the 59-year-old said the tides are changing because of public outcry. “Cosmetically, I feel that it’s changed because there’s been this acceptance of this reality that if you exclude us that we stop shopping with you.”
Throughout the course of his career, Lars’ designs have been worn by celebrities including Angela Bassett and former first lady Michelle Obama. He has partnered with Mattel to design limited-edition Barbie dolls.