“God created Black people and Black people created style” proclaimed George C. Wolfe, a two-time Tony award-winning playwright. He’s adapted stories by Zora Neale Hurston; created the musical, Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk,” starring Savion Glover; and has served as the Chief Creative Officer for the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, GA.
Wolfe’s quote encapsulates the bold truth: African-Americans have had an undeniable impact on art, fashion, and style despite the chilling fact that only 1% of Black fashion designers’ presentations are covered by Vogue Magazine. To illustrate, we’ve put together a list of seven Black fashion designers you should know. Four are from the past and three are contemporary to show you that we’ve been doin this and are still doin the damn thing! This is just a taste though, as our impact on the fashion industry is all but short-listed.
Whether boutique, high fashion, or vintage gold, these designers have historically questioned mainstream ideals of style and set new trends that would be later mimicked (as a form of flattery, perhaps?).
Check out the list below:.
- Ann Cole Lowe, the first internationally-recognized African American fashion designer and designer of Jackie Kennedy’s wedding gown. Born in Clayton, Alabama in 1898, she followed in her mother’s footsteps who made dresses for Southern society women. Together, they perfected the trapunto quilting technique on garments which created a full and elegant look adored by women across the world.
- Zelda Wynn Valdes, a mid-century designer who created evening wear for Josephine Baker, Dorothy Dandridge, and Ella Fitzgerald. And, she was the manufacturer of the infamous Playboy Bunny costume. Later in her career, she designed for R&B legend Gladys Knight and became the President of the New York chapter of the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers.
- Jon Weston, a mid-century experiential designer and Fashion Institute of Technology graduate that opened his own shop on New York’s infamous 7th Avenue.
- Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss, combines sportswear with powerful political messages to challenge the status quo. Most notably, he brought “Black Lives Matter” to New York Fashion Week by playing a video of Eric Garner before his 2016 fashion show.
- Laura Smalls had the honor of having First Lady Michelle Obama wear her dress to the 2012 Democratic National Convention. She also designs for Zoe Saldana, Halle Berry, Angelina Jolie, and Kerry Washington. Strongly influenced by Film Noir of the ‘30s and ‘40s, her designs can now be found in Bloomingdale’s, Henri Bendel, and elsewhere.
- Duro Olowu, a lawyer-turned-designer who’s earned the New Designer of the Year Award during the British Fashion Week and has also been tapped to design for our favorite First Lady, Michelle Obama.
Want to learn more about our impact on fashion industry? Check out Complex’s list of “25 Greatest Black Fashion Designers,” to become familiar with names like Armando Cabral, Carly Cushnie, Arthur McGee, and more.