If the definition of fashion design is “the art of the application of design and aesthetics or natural beauty to clothing and accessories and is influenced by cultural and social attitudes…” why isn’t there more diversity in the industry? Why are there so few black designers and how is it acceptable that only 14% of major fashion magazines feature a woman of color?
I think we all know the answer to these questions BUT this is going to be a happy post highlighting fashion designers and while we may be most familiar with the modern heavy hitters like Tracy Reese, here are a few pioneers in the industry you should know about.
Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave who saved up enough to buy her own freedom is considered the pioneer of American fashion. She was not only a seamstress but a civil rights activist and is best known for being the sole professional dressmaker and designer for Mary Todd Lincoln. While creating the wardrobe for the first lady, Elizabeth became close friends with Mary Todd and wrote Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House, a slave novel that revealed intimate details about the Lincoln family.
Ann Cole Lowe
Ann Cole Lowe became a noted fashion designer with a true love for couture design and a flare for creating amazing dresses for debutantes. She built several successful businesses with several high-profile clients such as the Rockerfellers but is most notable for designing Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding dress worn when she married John F. Kennedy.
Zelda Wynn Valdez
Zelda Wynn Valdez was the designer behind the original Playboy Bunny costume and later continued her love for creating sexy gowns that blessed the woman with curves (think Dorothy Dandridge and Mae West), and eventually went on to work with Dance Theater of Harlem. Zelda is also known for being the first black woman to own a shop on Broadway when opening her boutique in Manhattan.
Art Smith is known for having designed post-modern pieces that were abstract and dramatic in size and form, whose inspiration came from both African tribal art and his beginnings as a costume designer for several black dance companies. When he wasn’t making a name for himself with his “wearable sculpture”pieces, Art was actively supporting black and gay civil rights.