Long before inclusivity became a widely-accepted goal across the fashion industry, Harlem's Fashion Row has been championing and uplifting Black designers of color. Founded in 2007 by Brandice Daniel, the organization gives underrepresented Black designers a platform to display their work in front of a large audience.
Last night, the fashion set congregated at New York's Capitale for the HFR's biggest and most monumental bi-annual fashion showcase and gala in partnership with Nike and celebrated basketball star, LeBron James. Opening the evening, Daniel addressed the crowd about the importance of using oneself as a vessel to uplift Black designers whose talents have historically been overlooked by the industry at large. Harlem's Fashion Row, she told attendees, may have started with a sole fashion show, but its importance and significance has grown way past its runway productions: It's a robust community of like-minded people steadfast in their mission to prove there's no shortage of Black creatives. That message struck home when Fe Noel kicked off the show with a collection populated by structural, earth-toned pieces, followed by Undra Celeste's '70s and streetwear-inspired line, and an array of bold power suits by Kimberly Goldson.
In addition to the the joyous fashion, a slew of awards were given to the industry's most prolific figures for their contributions to the industry and storied legacies. Jason Rembert was honored with the Stylist of the Year award; Bethann Hardison was honored with the Trailblazer award; Dapper Dan was honored with the Lifetime Maverick award; and James was honored with the Icon 360 award. As incredible as receiving such an accolade is, Dapper Dan was especially grateful for the organization’s support way before he saw mainstream success with Gucci.
"When I first came out of the underground after 20 years when nobody knew about me or where I was at, they were the first ones to reach out and ask me to be part of a panel of young designers coming up. That was the most exciting thing of my life," Dapper Dan told Fashionista before the ceremony.
That message of support carried over in James's acceptance speech, wherein he expressed his admiration for Black women and their strength. "I believe that African American women are the most powerful women in the world," he said. That respect for Black women inspired him to work with Noel, Celeste, Goldson and Daniel for his first women's basketball shoe, the HFR x LeBron 16, which was unveiled at the end of the evening and will be available for purchase on Sept. 7.
The first Nike athletic sneaker for women and designed by women, it's adorned with gold accents and interchangeable leather straps that can be worn as bracelets or a choker. The colorway was inspired by Black womanhood and Black culture, which not only play a significant role in James's own life, but also in Harlem's Fashion Row. Since the shoe's unveiling, James has been using the fitting hashtag #STRONGEST to promote it on social media.
The historic partnership has been a long time coming: For years, Daniel has been working to raise the visibility of Black designers and prove that they not only exist, but are talented in equal measure to their peers. "I am so excited about where we are at this moment in 2018. It's taken a long time for people to even start having the conversation about designers of color in fashion," Daniel says. "Before, people didn't even want to really talk about race specifically. It was very taboo to talk about. And now, I feel like people are finally getting a lot more comfortable speaking about race."