OTwo Co-Editor Lucy Cleere reviews some of the most significant Black designers from the most recent Fashion week, while reflecting on the legacies of some of fashion's most influential Black figures.
As Black History Month rolls around again, this issue will shine a light on some of the unsung heroes of the fashion world, historically and presently. Before diving into the overview of Black and African designers who graced the runways at this year's Fashion Week, this article will commemorate some influential Black figures in the fashion sphere, some whose legacies are only recently being recognised.
Retrospectively, we turn to designers such as Ann Lowe, who have paved the way for the diversification of the fashion industry today. In an industry permeated with morally ambiguous practices and questionable marketing methods, this could not be more important.
Her most notable achievement was designing Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding dress for her 1953 marriage to John F Kennedy. Controversially, she did not receive recognition for this until years later. Her signature grandeur designs, and rich fabrics attracted high society clients to her Florida salon over the years, including several generations of Rockefellers, Roosevelts, and Du Ponts. Despite this, in 1964 the Saturday Evening Post described Lowe as “society’s best kept secret”- a bittersweet comment.
Lowe’s legacy conveys the need to not only recognise the contributions she and countless other Black artists and designers have given, but also the voices of the current Black artists and designers changing the fashion game today. “Black designers are the future because they always use the past to learn, stretch themselves, and go above and beyond to create something meaningful, something bigger than themselves; art, history, or an embodiment of a feeling or experience.” (Marcellus, Essence).
Current designers and Influencers who carry on Lowes legacy include Loza Malehombo and Virgil Abloh, who passed away in 2021. Malehombo, an Ivorian American fashion designer and advocate describes her work as “Bridging an African Aesthetic with contemporary fashion”. Virgil Abloh achieved countless feats in the fashion industry, notably becoming the first African American artistic director at a French luxury fashion house when he joined LVMH in 2018. Time magazine named him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world that year.
Essence asserts that Black designers are receiving more visibility than ever before. The most recent fashion week which took place in London, New York and Paris only amplified this claim. These shows ignited hope for the future of diversification within the fashion industry, with inspiring collections showcasing new and old Black voices.
These shows ignited hope for the future of diversification within the fashion industry, with inspiring displays showcasing new and old Black voices.
London saw the reintroduction of renowned design legends such as Oldfield and Boateng, along with an influx of new commissions from Sauders and Nicholas Daley who are hailed as “designers at the forefront of a new wave of British talent” (D’Souza, The Guardian). They provided significant contributions to a thought-provoking exhibition in Somerset House entitled “The Missing Thread: Untold stories”, which opened on September 21st.
Daley’s installation titled ‘Knitted Roots’, loosely replicated the interior design of a Caribbean home, While Saunders’ piece was a brightly coloured three-piece outfit inspired by Althea McNish, a celebrated textile designer. The exhibition sought to “provide a “roadmap” for industries seeking to decolonise and centre black voices” (D’Souza, The Guardian). It explores the legacy of Black diasporic designers and artisans from the 1970s through to the present day.
In New York, Amira Rasool (Founder and CEO) of Folklore Connect and Lindsey Peoples and Sandrine Charles of Black in Fashion Council held their annual showrooms, the latter taking place in Spring Studios, the most popular location of NYFW. Highlighting emerging Black designers, the shows were wildly successful, showcasing designers with roots spanning across Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and the US. BIFC displayed brands including KHOI (by Hayet Rida), Tia Adeola and Ciara Chyanne. "Their presence at NYFW reflects the growth of their brands and the continued commitment to diversity within the industry” (Coger, Refinery29).
Following immediate success in New York with 800 attendees, the Folklore Connect, a B2B wholesale platform, made its Paris debut from 26th-27th of September. This showroom was held in Palais Royale and the collection saw ten Black and African brands, including Kente Gentlemen (Gender neutral brand by Aristide Loua based in Ivory Coast). Brands such as Duaba Serwa, a Ghanaian luxury womenswear brand founded by Nelly Hagan Deegbe in 2011 has used the Paris Showroom as an opportunity to attract interest from buyers for years. (Benissan, Vogue Business)
While it is refreshing to see how progressive and inclusive a lot of the displays in this year's fashion week were, we should note these designers are still embarking on harsh territory, in an industry where many prejudices are still reoccuring.
While it is refreshing to see how progressive and inclusive a lot of the displays in this year's fashion week were, we should note these designers are still embarking on harsh territory, in an industry where many prejudices are still reoccuring - where we must be acutely aware of ‘token diversity’ within the fashion industry.