There's been a lot of talk recently about the disturbing absence of models-of-color within New York’s twice-annual ready-to-wear shows.
While many blame designers and casting agents for their narrow definitions of commercially viable beauty, others allege that the root of the problem is actually the lack of diversity within New York’s design studios. Here the discussion is less about diversity in a broad sense--many designers of Asian or Latino descent are represented—-and more about addressing the shocking lack of African American creatives among New York’s design elite. Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic Robin Givhan gave this issue a thorough examination within her 2006 piece "Laurels and Darts", concluding that financial obstacles and less influential social networks were among the challenges preventing numerous talented black designers from becoming household names.
Despite these realities, key black designers are garnering invaluable industry buzz and building brands-to-be-reckoned-with in the process; Hood By Air’s Shayne Oliver offers, “Yes, I'm trying to create something new conceptually, but at the same time I'm trying to create a new American standard as well."
It’s a pursuit that the Wall Street Journal’s Teri Agins views as central in securing success for young designers of any race, pointing out that African American designer (and '90s-wunderkind) Byron Lars was "dedicated to honing a signature brand of wearable creativity that lasted beyond momentary trends."
Highly buzzed about newcomer Charles Harbison is doing just that, evolving his classic, sportswear-rooted collection for its second showing. While the canon of American classics is consistently present in his collection, he confidently asserts, “I have a cultural connection to print and color that is a noteworthy influence in my work."
On the flipside Laquan Smith--a master of cutting the sexiest of sheath dresses--confides, “A big part of why I do this is to show many people (especially kids) that it can be done!”
In that spirit, this New York Fashion Week delivers 13 brands--with aesthetics ranging from avant-garde and edgy to classic and couture-inspired--being helmed (or co-helmed) by African American creatives. We are excited to see these individuals defying the odds many face as black designers in New York. Click through the slideshow to check them out.
Harbison Designer: Charles Harbison Years in business: Less than one year! Harbison is showing his second collection this season Previously worked for: Michael Kors, Billy Reid The collection is all about: Precise menswear-inspired tailoring and luxe fabrics Fun fact: Harbinson cites his mom’s penchant for pantsuits as super influential in his fashion coming-of-age
Way It Should Be Designer: Hassan Pierre Years in business: Two years The collection is all about: Environmentally sustainable chic High-profile fans include: Hannah Bronfman, Hilary Rhoda Home is where the heart is: Pierre calls Manhattan home now, but his roots trace back to Haiti
Jérôme 5:31 Designer: Jerome Lamaar Previously worked for: Kimora Lee Simmons (you may have caught his many appearances in her reality show) The collection is all about: Modern glam and fantasy fashion Fun fact: His illustrations of popular cartoon heroines (wearing the season’s top collections) took Tumblr by storm! Designer blog: The Style Monk
Cushnie et Ochs Designers: Carly Cushnie (left) and Michelle Ochs (right) Years in business: Four years The collection is all about: Bold body-conscious, statement dresses Fun fact: The two met at Parsons and collaborated on a senior thesis that won rave reviews and launched their business
Hood By Air Designer: Shayne Oliver Years in business: Six years The collection is all about: The intersection of experimental gothic imagery and (neighbor)hood swagger Fun fact: Oliver is a graduate of Manhattan’s ground-breaking Harvey Milk School
Public School Designers: Maxwell Osborne (left) and Dao-Yi Chow (right) Years in business: They’ve been showing for one and a half years Previously worked for: Sean “P-Diddy-Puffy-Puff Daddy” Combs’ Sean John Label The collection is all about: Bad-boy preppy Fun fact: Their stint in the CFDA incubator program got them hyped to produce their entire collection locally in NYC
Tracy Reese Designer: Tracy Reese Years in business: 15 (this makes her the well-seasoned vet of the bunch!) Previously worked for: Martine Sitbon, Perry Ellis Brands The collection is all about: Refined feminine charm with injections of edgy quirk Fun fact: Parsons biffies with Marc Jacobs
Telfar Designer: Telfar Clemens Years in business: Eight The collection is all about: The cutting-edge ease of bags-cum-garments Fun fact: Downtown-DJ buddies with Hood By Air’s Shayne Oliver
Belstaff Designer: Martin Cooper Years in business: Belstaff was founded in 1924; Cooper took the reins one a half years ago Previously worked for: Burberry (16 years!) The collection is all about: Uber-luxe utilitarian pieces
K. Nicole Couture Designer: Kera Anderson (left) Nicole Styler (right) Years in business: Just launched this year! Ringing registers: The two met at Styler’s “made-to-measure” boutique in Philidelphia The collection is all about: Opulent, baroque flourishes in richly patterned tapestries
B. Michael America Couture Designer: B. Michael Previously worked for: Oscar de la Renta The collection is all about: Uptown, society-lady polish blended with Harlem’s jazzy vibe High-profile fans: Cicely Tyson, Suan Fales-Hill, Angela Bassett Fun fact: He developed Whitney Houston’s stunning costumes for the film Sparkle
Laquan Smith Designer: Laquan Smith Years in business: Three It’s a family affair: Our very own Leah got a chance to check out Smith’s atelier/Smith’s Grandma’s house The collection is all about: Unleashing the vixen within Fun fact: Counts Andre Leon Talley as a “Fashion Fairy-Godfather”
Kithe Brewster Collection Designer: Kithe Brewster The September Issue: Brewster cut his teeth as a sittings editor and stylist, working since he was 19 for top-level mags like Flaunt and Jalouse The collection is all about: Editorial-ready fashion Fun fact: Best buds with model/Real Housewife of Atlanta, Cynthia Bailey
Azede Jean-Pierre Designer: Azede Jean-Pierre Years in business: One Previously worked for: Ralph Rucci, Ohne Titel The collection is all about: Razor-sharp, architectural lines Southern Belle: Azede Jean-Pierre is a grad of Savannah College of Art and Design's fashion program