What It Means to be a Black Designer

What It Means to be a Black Designer

Glamour posted a great feature on "What it means to be a black fashion designer." And while it's wonderful that the 3 designers featured got shine in Glamour, most designers don't want to be categorized as a 'black' designer.

It seems like every week a fashion brand is increasingly transparent about their business or manufacturing practices.

It's a positive development in an industry that is known for secrets and elitism. But long before these conversations were considered “on trend,” black women working in fashion in different capacities—designers, models, stylists—have advocated and worked toward making fashion a more inclusive, representative space.

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While the #wedding of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline “Jackie O” Lee Bouvier was one of the most highly anticipated social events of the season, everyone’s eyes were glued to one thing: Jackie O’s wedding dress. And until now, the dress #designer’s identity was kept a secret. Many wealthy families and others in high #society referred to Ann Lowe, one of the first #Black high fashion designers, as their “best kept #secret”. Not only did she design Jackie O’s wedding gown, she also designed actress Olivia de Havilland’s Oscar gown. Lowe was born in #Alabama in 1898. Her grandmother was an enslaved #dressmaker who opened a business after the Civil War. Her grandmother and her mother worked as dressmakers in her grandmother’s #business. Lowe’s mother died when she was 16, forcing her to take over the family business.Though she was happy making #dresses, she wanted to do more. She took a sabbatical and enrolled in S. T. Taylor #Design School in New York City. Shocked they enrolled a Black student, the headmaster tried to discourage her from attending the #school. She had to take her classes in a room alone. Despite the #racism, she endured and graduated. Ten years later, she moved permanently to New York City and took jobs as an in-house #seamstress at Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Henri Bendel and other high-end stores. She opened a business in New York and designed for socialites, famous families and #Hollywood stars. Her clients often went to her because they could get a high-fashion dress at a much cheaper rate. Although unknown to the masses in her heyday, Lowe is now getting the #recognition she deserves. Both the National Museum of African American #History and Culture and the Museum at the #Fashion Institute of Technology are displaying her #gowns. ❤️ #AnnLowe #JackieO #JackieKennedy #KnowledgeIsPower ✊

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Ann Lowe, the woman who made Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress, carved a path for herself, becoming the first black designer to open a boutique on Madison Avenue, and paved the way for many others.


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Lois K. Alexander Lane, ca. 1940s. Lane, a fashion designer and historian, devoted most of her life to documenting and collecting the involvement of African Americans in the fashion industry. She founded the Harlem Institute of Fashion in 1966 and the Black Fashion Museum in 1979. The institute offered free courses on dressmaking and design as well as more practical subjects like math and history. Both closed in the early 90s, but fortunately, Lane donated her collection and papers to the Smithsonian a few months before her passing in late 2007. #blackwomen #1940s #1940sfashion #blackdesigners #dressmaking #fashionhistory #harlem #washingtondc #annlowe #fashionindustry #blackhistory #boudoir #mirrors #dressingtable #artdeco

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(Finally, people are recognizing it.) From 1958 to 2009, the Ebony Fashion Fair, founded by businesswoman Eunice W. Johnson, created a space not just for black designers and models to show their work, but also for black shoppers to spend. By the early 2000s brands like Baby Phat were introducing products to the market that addressed the needs of this previously underserved customer, like jeans that fit curves.

Fashion still has a lot of work to do when it comes to diversifying its talent pool. In February 2015 only 2.7 percent of the designers on the New York Fashion Week calendar were black, according to The New York Times; by February 2018 that statistic was still under 10 percent, per The Cut. And there have been regular reminders why this is critical: Designer products resembling blackface or nooses have sparked calls for boycotts and increased demands that companies take steps to diversify and educate their employees and provide new opportunities for people of color. Amid the headlines and outcry, black fashion designers keep doing the work: creating and advocating for more inclusive fashion through their products and every single facet of their business.



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