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.