This Black History Month we celebrate the 15 fashion designers who previously shaped the industry and those who continue to do so today.
Elizabeth Keckley was born into slavery in 1818 and went on to become an extremely successful seamstress, author, and civil activist. She’s best known for being the personal modiste and confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln, First Lady, and wife of President Abraham Lincoln.
Keckley found acclaim when she completed a silk dress for the wife of Robert E. Lee - Mary Anna Custis Lee - to wear to the future King Edward VII’s dinner party. Lee received countless compliments for her dress and Keckley’s business grew exponentially. She has been described as, ‘the dressmaker in D.C. because her garments had extraordinary fit’.
Well known for her illustrations and use of patterns, Ruby Bailey is perhaps one of the least well known African American Women fashion designers. Despite this, her sheer talent speaks for itself and she’s notable for using herself as a model to showcase her latest designs.
Her designs were categorised by their use of bold tribal prints and one of her best-known designs was the iconic, zebra-print “African” influenced jacket which was featured in the New York Amsterdam News in 1949.
The first African American woman to become a notable fashion designer, Ann Lowe created one-ofa-kind designs that were coveted by high society.
She opened her first dress salon in Florida in 1920 and it quickly became extremely successful. Off the back of this, she moved to New York and undertook commissions from stores such as Montaldo’s and Saks Fifth Avenue.Her designs were worn by notable members of society and perhaps her most famous design was worn by First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier on her wedding day to President John F. Kennedy.
Another often overlooked name in Black fashion design is Jay Jaxon. The first Black American couturier in the Paris Maisons, Jaxon led former French fashion house, Jean-Louis Scherrer, in the late 1960s/early 1970s.
He also designed for Dior, Givenchy, and Yves Saint Laurent and went on to design costumes for TV, film, dance performances, and music tours. His designs were notable for expressing simplicity in combination with their sense of sophistication and grace.
Jaxon focused on creating African clothing for women that emphasised the drape of each garment. He was responsible for creating African dresses for women that were cut on the bias for movement.
Kimora Lee Simmons started her career as a model and worked for a number of different brands including Chanel, Fenti, and Valentino. She became Creative Director of fashion brand Baby Phat in 2000 and served as a judge on the first season of America’s Next Top Model.
She is well known for her TV appearances and production roles, as well as being a highly successful designer.
Stella Novarino - known professionally as Stella Jean - lives and works in Rome, Italy, and is widely considered to be Giorgio Armani’s protégé.
Her approach to her work is described as being ‘multiculturalism applied to fashion’ and her designs merge classic Italian tailoring with the styles of other cultures. She previously collaborated with Christian Louboutin on her AW14 collection and several of her designs were exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2014.
A trained architect, Virgil Abloh entered the world of fashion design with an internship at Fendi in 2009. He worked alongside rapper Kanye West on an artistic collaboration that would be instrumental in Abloh founding ‘Off-White’.
He was the first African American to be the artistic director at a luxury French fashion house and was named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2018.
Olivier Rousteing’s career started at Roberto Cavalli where he was quickly promoted to Creative Director. At the age of 25, he took on the role of Creative Director at Balmain where he is credited with adding an Asian influence to the clothing.
Since he stepped into this role, Balmain has seen a 15 to 20 percent increase in their profits and menswear now accounts for 40 percent of their total revenue.
Despite initially being rejected from two fashion design schools, LaQuan Smith has gone on to experience notable success as a fashion designer.
He started his self-titled fashion brand in 2008 and debuted at New York Fashion Week in 2010. His shows have been attended by guests such as Diane von Furstenberg, and Sandra Bernhard, and celebrities such as Serena Williams and Rihanna have modeled his work.
Carly Cushnie founded Cushnie in 2008 alongside Michelle Ochs and the fashion house quickly became known for its clean, modern designs. Their work is described as being, ‘sleek, sexy, and modern’, and both women often modeled and wore their own clothing.
The brand has been seen on a number of celebrities including Blake Lively to Khloé Kardashian and has also collaborated with Target.
Dapper Dan’s self-titled store, Dapper Dan’s Boutique, operated in the 1980s and 1990s and is well known for introducing high fashion to the world of hip hop. Notable clients over the years include Salt-N-Pepa, LL Cool J, and Jay-Z, and Dapper Dan was also responsible for outfitting Floyd Mayweather.
He launched a fashion line with Gucci in 2017 and was named as one of Time’s 100 most influential people in 2020.
Founder of genderless fashion label, TELFAR, Telfar Clemens has previously collaborated with famous faces and brands such as Solange Knowles and UGG. He has also designed the uniforms for White Castle and the 2021 Liberian Olympic team.
His Telfar Shopping Bag is in high demand and sells out within minutes of every single restock leading to his store website crashing in 2020. He cites Vivienne Westwood, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Yohji Yamamoto as being key influences on his style and has won acclaim at the CDFA twice.
Known for her bold, sophisticated designs, Anifa Mvuemba wowed the fashion world in 2020 with a 3D fashion show for her brand Hanifa, which was broadcast on Instagram Live.
Her designs celebrate the shape and female form of beautiful African women and places emphasis on showcasing the beauty of the female body - no matter the size. Her designs are notable for not looking like they were designed for thin people and then thoughtlessly increased to fit a plus-size woman.
Born in Ghana, Akosua Afriyie-Kumi is the creative director of A A K S. Launched in 2014, the brand stocks a range of bags that have been handcrafted in Ghana and showcases traditional Ghanan weaving methods.
She’s been featured in publications such as The Guardian UK, Times UK, and The Economist, and her bags are stocked in over 60 stores around the world.
Creator of the fashion house Sika’a, John Tchoudi previously worked building another fashion house before taking the leap and founding his own. He’s passionate about shining a spotlight on African fashion and plans to transform Sika’a into a global, African fashion house.
What is Black History Month, and when is Black History Month?
Black History Month is dedicated to celebrating African American culture and the African culture. It’s an opportunity to recognise all of the amazing achievements that can be attributed to Black people throughout history.
Black History Month runs throughout the month of October and a new theme for celebrating Black History Month is selected every year. If you’re wondering how to celebrate Black History Month then there are always a number of different Black History Month projects that are available to take part in.
If you’re sure where to start then, in particular, the African American History Museum, and National Museum of African American History and Culture have a wide variety of ideas and inspiration to help you celebrate Black History Month.
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