Black Fashion Designers at FIT Museum

On view: December 6, 2016 through May 16, 2017

eric gaskins

Detail of dress by Eric Gaskins, Black Fashion Designers Exhibition, FIT Museum.

This sweeping exhibition showcases works of fashion designers of African descent created from the 1950s through now.  Organized into themes including “Breaking into the Industry,” “Rise of the Black Designer,” “Eveningwear,” “African Influences,” “Street Influences,” “Activism,” “Menswear,” “Black Models” and “Experimentation,” the fashions are as varied as the designers themselves.

Early fashions in the exhibition include a wedding dress by the society designer Ann Lowe, who also created Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress, and perhaps its polar opposite, the iconic Playboy bunny costume by Zelda Wynn Valdes, who designed for entertainers such as Josephine Baker and Ella Fitzgerald.  In the 1970s, designers such as Stephen Burrows and Scott Barrie became known for their fluid, disco-era fashions.  In the 1980s, Patrick Kelly (who was featured in an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2004), became the first American member of the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter. The logo-centric streetwear of Dapper Dan and the loose silhouettes and vibrant palette of Cross Colours (Carl Jones and TJ Walker) grew out of the hip hop culture of the 1980s.

The fashions from recent years represent a profusion of styles.  Olivier Rousteing of Balmain, Cushnie et Ochs, Public School, and Tracy Reese have wide appeal. Mimi Plange, Lisa Folawiyo, Stella Jean, and Aisha Ayensu of Christie Brown consciously use and reference traditional African motifs and textiles.  T-shirts communicate social messages.  Menswear designers Casely-Hayford and Grace Wales Bonner challenge traditional notions of masculinity.  Andre Walker, and Shayne Oliver of Hood by Air, push the boundaries of fashion.

The exhibition, curated by Ariele Elia and Elizabeth Way, and supported by the Couture Council and the FIT President’s Diversity Council, raises the visibility of black fashion designers and celebrates their important contributions to fashion.

Although there is no exhibition catalog, the website includes a substantial amount  of information, including an audio tour narrated by André Leon Talley, the curators, and some of the designers featured in the exhibtion; videos documenting numerous talks and a symposium that was held on February 6, 2017; and a list of resources.  The website would be made complete with an exhibition checklist listing all the fashions featured in the exhibition.

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