FIT Museum to Present 'Black Fashion Designers' Exhibit

It will address the global history of black designers — and models — from the 1950s to the present.
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Chantal Fernandez
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It will address the global history of black designers — and models — from the 1950s to the present.
Ann Lowe, wedding dress, 1968, USA. Gift of Judith A. Tabler, 2009.70.2. Photo: Eileen Costa/The Museum at FIT

Ann Lowe, wedding dress, 1968, USA. Gift of Judith A. Tabler, 2009.70.2. Photo: Eileen Costa/The Museum at FIT

Black fashion designers have long been underrepresented — they account for just one percent of designers covered by Vogue Runway today — and underappreciated in the fashion industry. Take Ann Lowe as a case in point: the couturier was a "best-kept secret" among upper-echelon society women in the 1950s and '60s, and even designed Jacqueline Kennedy's famous wedding dress — though the future First Lady credited the creation at the time to a "colored woman." Lowe's work even caught the attention of Christian Dior (they eventually met in Paris), but she was still quite unknown when she died in 1981.  

Lowe is just one of several influential designers featured in The Museum at FIT's upcoming "Black Fashion Designers" exhibition, which will focus on the impact of over 60 designers of African descent from the 1950s to present. The late 1960s and '70s are a particular focus, because it was a disco-dominated era during which black designers such as Stephen Burrows and Scott Barrie set the tone. The exhibit will also demonstrates how African and diasporic designers have interpreted traditional African textiles and art in their work.

"Black Fashion Designers" will highlight plenty of today's well-known names — including Tracy Reese, Public School, Pyer Moss, LVMH Prize winner Grace Wales Bonner, Hood by Air and Sean John — in addition to wide-ranging trailblazers such as eveningwear designer Bruce Oldfield, Savile Row’s Ozwald Boateng, and Dapper Dan. 

Duro Olowu, ensemble, Fall 2012, England. Gift of Duro Olowu, 2016.65.1. Photo: Eileen Costa.The Museum at FIT

Duro Olowu, ensemble, Fall 2012, England. Gift of Duro Olowu, 2016.65.1. Photo: Eileen Costa.The Museum at FIT

The exhibit is not confined in scope by its title, however, and will explore the influence of black models, too. A section of the exhibit is dedicated to barrier-breaking faces and events such as the Ebony Fashion Fair and "The Battle of Versailles." Models Naomi Sims, Veronica Webb and Liya Kebede each chose specific dresses to represent them, and a short film featuring a conversation lead by Robin Givhan will accompany the pieces. The Washington Post fashion critic isn't the only influential journalist lending her voice and authority to the exhibit. Vogue's André Leon Talley stars in another short film, in conversation with designers Reese and Mimi Plange.

"Black Fashion Designers," organized by Ariele Elia, assistant curator of Costume and Textiles, and Elizabeth Way, curatorial assistant, will be on view at The Museum at FIT from Dec. 6 through May 16. 

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