Wednesday, February 19, 2014


I wasn't aware there were so many black fashion designers. But then again that is what black history month is for. To highlight, learn and share the achievements of black people with the world.
The 25 Greatest Black Fashion Designers
While black fashion designers are a rarity in the industry, there are many who have made great strides—not only in their designs, but in creating opportunities for other designers of color. That's why we wanted to highlight some of the notable names whose ideas and innovations have helped shape the course of fashion.
So what better time than February, when it's not only Black History Month, but New York Fashion Week, to appreciate their contributions? From avant-garde designers with inspirations from underground subcultures, master tailors still at the top of their game, and footwear designers behind some of the most creative kicks to date, these are The 25 Greatest Black Fashion Designers.

Armando Cabral

Design CreditsArmando Cabral

Armando Cabral has a face you've probably seen before. You've most likely encountered it in a lookbook, fashion show, or while perusing the J. Crew catalog or webshop.
When the Portuguese model isn't in front of the camera, he's probably designing shoes. In 2009, he launched his namesake line of high-quality footwear. Made in Italy and sourcing luxe materials from rich leather to tough canvas, his designs range from high-top sneakers to woven derbies and hardy looking boots. Already stocked at sites like Mr. Porter, don't be surprised if the label blows up in the coming season.
Carly Cushnie

Design CreditsCushnie et Ochs 

Don't let the gorgeous face, and perfect bone structure fool you, Carly Cushnie is not a model, she is however one of the co-founders and designers of the coveted womens brand Cushnie et Ochs.
Originally from London, Carly was between New York and Paris studying at Parsons School of design where she graduated with her BA in Fashion Design. She fine tuned design her skills working at venerable fashion houses like Donna Karan, Oscar De La Renta, and Proenza Schouler whom all are masters at complimenting a woman's figure, so there's no question why when looking at her collections for Cushnie et Ochs have a sensuality, confidence, and sexual appeal for her loyal customers. Just a few months back she was featured in Forbes' "30 Under 30" list. Be on the look out for Carly, and the new collection from Cushnie et Ochs which will be showing again at New York Fashion Week.
Duro Olowu

Design CreditsDuro Olewu

Duro Olewu has been in the fashion game since 2004 where he made his name in London with his vibrant color palatte and pattern on pattern pairings, no wonder America's premier fashionista, Michelle Obama, has donned several pieces from his exuberant collections.
In 2005 Duro was discovered by then-Vogue editor Sally Singer, and Julie Gilheart formerly of Barneys. Needless to say, if you could garner the attention of some of the most influential and discerning eyes in the fashion industry, which brought him into the American market where his designs were quickly coveted by women all over the U.S. During the same year, his peer's back across the pond named him "New Designer of The Year," at the Bristish Fashion Awards which solidified his place as as a designer. Duro, who now shows at New York Fashion week, keeps to his same aesthetic and seventies-tailoring, and remains a hot ticket show on the fashion calendar.
Arthur McGee

Design Credits: Bobby Brooks; Arthur McGee

Arthur McGee was making huge breakthroughs in fashion that were impressive on their own merit, let alone for an African-American working in a time when segregation and Jim Crow Laws were still prevalent in the country.
After graduting from FIT in the '50s, McGee's skills allowed him to rise in the ranks until he was the first African-American to run a design room of an established apparel company, Bobby Brooks. The label was soon selling to stores that had never stocked designs from an African-American designer, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's, and Bergdorf Goodman. Searching for creative independence, McGee opened his first store on St. Mark's Place in the early '60s, and immediately garnered a cult following that included some of NYC's biggest fashionistas. He was known for bringing an African and Asian aesthetic to his relaxed silhouettes, but his lasting legacy was mentoring burgeoning African-American talent, including Willi Smith, to the point that he became known as the dean of African-American designers.
Jeffrey Banks

Design Credits: Jeffrey Banks; Alixandre; Merona Sports sportwear; Concorde International; B. Glanzrock; L'Aiglon; Lakeland; and Oxford Industries.

Jeffrey Banks was a go-getter from a young age, working in the top ranks of Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein before establishing his own namesake firm in 1978 at the age of 25. Banks brought a masculine element of glamor from the '20s and '30s of Hollywood to his contemporary clothing. His name graced suiting, neckwear, and accessories, but his biggest moneymaker was the furs he designed for men and boys.
André Leon-Talley said his furs were "so smart and tailored that some women want to wear them." He was also dedicated to the business end of his endeavors, and remained enmeshed in the financials of his various pursuits during his career, which was probably for the best. Japanese businessman Tomio Taki invested in Banks' company in 1988, helping him out greatly. Banks continues to design clothes that are on the backs of millions of stylish guys around the world.
Dexter and Byron Peart

Design CreditsWANT Les Essentiels de la Vie

Canadian twins Dexter and Byron have had a lifelong appreciation for fashion, and held positions at high-volume brands like Diesel and Sixty. In 2006, they started WANT Les Essentiels de la Vie out of a desire to see high-end travel accessories made with an appreciation for timeless design. The resulting handsomely crafted leather goods became hugely popular with fashion insiders and stylish jet setters alike, and their goods have been stocked from accessible retailers like J. Crew to higher-end boutiques like Maison Kitsune.
Stephen Burrows

Design CreditsStephen Burrows

Stephen Burrows is a true OG and is important for a number of reasons. The designer launched his namesake label in 1963 and, not long after, became one of the first African-American designers to gain international recognition. He helped define a generation with his disco-inspired designs and went on to win the Coty Award for best womenswear, making him the first black designer to do so. If you aren't familiar with Mr. Burrows, you'll want to get on that ASAP.
Not much has changed in the last few years-he still has the same design aesthetics, and he still wears those sunglasses. These days, he's just dressing different celebrities, including Oprah, Taylor Swift, and Naomi Campbell.
Scott Barrie

Design Credits: Barrie Sport; S.E.L.; Krizia; Kinshido

Along with Willi Smith and Stephen Burrows, Scott Barrie was one of the first designers to represent African-Americans on the international fashion platform.
His godmother designed for and dressed for some of the biggest Jazz names, and passed the torch to Scott. By the late '60s, Barrie had graduated from designing in his apartment to being one of the edgiest designers out there. His matte jersey dresses provided risqué eveningwear for a cliente in the '70s that were ready to party hard. The clothes ranged from sexy to outrageous, and found devotees in some of the most fashionable ladies of NYC, Paris, Milan, and Tokyo.
By the time of his premature death, Barrie had helped break down numerous barriers and proved his mom wrong when she warned him about the high-end fashion world, saying, "Blacks don't make it there."
Martine Rose

Design CreditsMartine Rose 

Menswear designer Martine Rose has made some ground since her days designing T-shirts with a friend under the moniker LMNOP. Today, she's killing at London Fashion Week and is gaining a following of cool guys interested in her bomber jackets, and mix of sportswear and tailoring. Not to mention, she has also collaborated with the likes of Timberland, CAT, and Icon Brand. It's no wonder Rose is always on the lists of British menswear designers to watch.

Agape Mdumulla

Design CreditsAgi & Sam

Agape Mdumulla is one half of the design duo behind the brand Agi & Sam, and easily one of the British menswear designers you should know. He earned his stripes working for Karl Lagerfeld and Alexander McQueen, the latter being where he eventually met co-designer Sam Cotton. But his foray into fashion wasn't always so clear: As the story goes, Mdumulla wanted to be a pilot until he was 16. Needless to say, it looks like the stars aligned and everything worked out for the best.
Since launching their label, he and Cotton have been praised for their snappy tailoring and prints-they even did an entire collection inspired by the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. They've only shown collections for a few seasons, but if any of the previous ones are indications of what's to come we're in for a treat.
Joe Casely-Hayford

Design Credits: Joe Casely-Hayford; Casely-Hayford

Joe Casely-Hayford could quite easily be the hardest working man in the fashion industry. Since the mid-80s, he's designed his eponymous men's and women's line, which won him the Womenswear British Designer of the Year in 1989, and Innovative Designer of the Year in 1991. And that's where Casely-Hayfor's resumé began growing into a list as thick as "War & Peace."
He was the first designer to create an exclusive range for Topshop, designed for films, consulted for ballets, and dressed an absurd amount of musicians in his unique but wearable clothing. He's the bespoke designer of choice for names like Lou Reed, U2, The Clash, Liam Gallagher, and many others. Influencing the look of rock 'n roll's most stylish stars is of course going to get you noticed, and Casely-Hayford consistently makes lists of the top designers in creative influencers in London. And it must run in the family. Along with his son Charlie, the two launched Casely-Hayford in 2009, mixing Savile Row tradition with British Anarchy attitude. As Joe passes the torch to Charlie, the family name is definitely safe in the hands of one of London's need-to-know fashion insiders. 
Telfar Clemens

Design CreditsTelfarUnder.T

Born in Queens, Telfar Clemens' designs toe the line between streetwear and high-fashion with a global perspective. That might've been gleaned from a childhood spent in Liberia. His clothing has a transformer-like quality, like the detachable fleece suit in his latest collection. There's hints of pragmatism mixed in with a little bit of street-savviness and workwear vibes. Indigo jeans are reinterpreted with two-toned fleece, hoodies look less athletic and more like body armor.
While there's a bit of whimsy, there's also a cool guy vibe to everything, as Clemens' upbringing and exposure to various subcultures while moonlighting as a DJ brought him into contact with many different styles—all which provide their own influence on Clemens' approach to clothing design. He also has his diffusion line, Under.T, which offers re-interpreted basics like sweats and tees.
b michael

Design Creditsb michael AMERICA

Making the jump from Wall Street to the tents of Lincoln Center is never an easy task, but b. michael took the leap of creative faith and has never looked back.
After cutting his teeth with Oscar de la Renta, Louis Feraud, and others, the Connecticut native launched his couture line in 1999 to massive critical acclaim. The combination of simplicity and glamor immediately caught on with an audience looking to add some fun to their wardrobe heading into the 21st century, and that's what b. michael's now famous dresses did. Before long, he had a clientele that included huge names such as Beyoncé, Serena and Venus Williams, Halle Berry, and Cate Blanchett. In our minds, that roster puts any stock portfolio the shame.
Edward Wilkerson

Design CreditsDonna KaranLafayette 148

After cutting his teeth at Donna Karen and Calvin Klein, Edward Wilkerson has positioned himself atop multi-million dollar women's sportswear brand Lafayette 148. Wilkerson's insane work ethic and persistence is what carried him to the top—while he was in school he literally went block by block in the garment district looking for job opportunities—but it was his personal traveling and discovery in throughout Africa where he truly secured his vision.
Taking inspiration from his time in Kenya, Morocco, and other countries, Wilkerson has stuck to his original philosophy of creating stylish basics while infusing a bit of flair and excitement. Even though he, like Drake, started from the bottom, he advises African-American designers who still have to fave barriers and prejudice to "Start at the top. The bottom is always going to be there."

Russell Simmons

Design CreditsPhat Farm, Argyleculture, American Classics

Started in 1992, Phat Farm signified a cultural shift in urban fashion. This was the era of rapper brands. While business magnate Russell Simmons took his cues from preppy labels like Ralph Lauren, he mixed it up with inspirations from street-friendly brands like Stussy. As a result, Phat Farm's cross-cultural appeal made it one of the few brands to outlast streetwear's first wave, and one of the only celebrity-owned labels of the time that still endures today. He also had other labels like Argyleculture and American Classics.
Even though Simmons stopped having design input at Phat Farm as of 2007, he paved the way for many other pioneers like PNB, and future adidas Creative Director Paul Mittleman, who worked for Phat Farm before taking the creative helm at Stussy.
Shayne Oliver

Design CreditsHood By Air

You can thank Shayne Oliver for the current trend of high-fashion with an undeniably street appeal. As early at 2006, Oliver was screenprinting tees with "HOOD" on them. As things progressed, he branched out into different designs and even beyond screen printing.
While his HBA Classics line gained popularity due to co-signs from the A$AP Mob and getting placement in cool guy havens like Opening Ceremony, it perfectly encapsulates the current fashion climate, which is learning to embrace the high/low juxtaposition. What sets Oliver's design philosophy apart from his contemporaries is the deliberate self-awareness he pours into his work, in fact, he prefers the term "hood" over "ghetto" because he feels the latter has connotations of victimization, while the former symbolizes realness. He's not afraid to take risks, especially with style.

Marc Hare

Design CreditsMr. Hare

With his rude boy roots and decidedly English demeanor, Marc Hare is one cool dude. His long dreads and artfully unkempt beard contrast well with his rather dapper personal style. The footwear he makes are an equal juxtaposition of gritty edge and high-class sensibilities.
He wasn't always so dressed-up, Hare actually ran Low Pressure, London's only surf shop, in 1992. A few years later, after consulting for sneaker brands and the likes of Levi's and Dr. Martens, he got the itch to start a footwear line of his own. Launching his label in 2009, he originally made waves for eye-catching kicks like spectator shoes made out of stringrays and prices as exorbitant as his designs. He's recently opened his first stand-alone store in London, and shows no signs of slowing down.
Maxwell Osborne

Design CreditsPublic School and Black Apple

Cutting his teeth as a designer for Sean John, that's where Maxwell Osborne met co-designer Dao-Yi Chow. Together, they set out to create high-end clothes with a gritty New York edge through the label Public School, and then established its streetwear-oriented offshoot, Black Apple.
The spirit of New York's downtown bohemian scene and middle-finger-to-the-world delinquency perfectly rings through Osborne and Chow's designs, and while they're both two stylish guys in their own right, Osborne's drapey, dark, aesthetic and trademark dreads make him a sartorial force to be reckoned with. Having just launched a denim line and a collaboration with the New York Knicks, expect more great things to come from this guy.

Olivier Rousteing

Design CreditsBalmain

When Balmain announced it was appointing Olivier Rousteing as head designer, some questioned whether he was right for the job. But, as you know, the move proved to be the right decision and not to mention also lucrative.
To this day, celebrities can't get enough of the brand, and rappers are still wearing the biker jeans like it's their second skin. The African-Frenchman Rousteing earned his stripes at Roberto Cavalli, where he worked for five years, and then designing Balmain's women's line. He may have stayed behind the scenes while former designer Christophe Decarnin led Balmain, but those days are long gone. All eyes are on Rousteing now.
Patrick Robinson

Design CreditsGiorgio ArmaniAnne KleinPerry EllisPaco RabaneGap

Patrick Robinson launched an eponymous label in 1997, but gained popularity through his work at other brands. In fact, Robinson is what some might call a fashion nomad, as in he's moved from brand to brand (and helped to revive some). He's held positions at Giorgio Armani, Anne Klein, Perry Ellis, Paco Rabane, and more recently, Gap, where he was Executive VP of Global Design until 2011. He was responsible for much of the brand's resurgence and revamped jeans line.
While some designers might take pride in opertaing their own line, the Caifornia-native says he enjoys working for other companies and bringing it to where he thinks it should be. He's come a long way from making board shorts (he got interested in fashion because of the surfing culture) and has built a following, people who would be glad to see him sketching, designing, and doing all the awesome things designers do.
Andrew Ramroop

Design CreditsMaurice Sedwell

In 1969, Trinidad-born Andrew Ramroop began a career as a tailor's apprentice. He had tailored his first suit at 17, and his craftsmanship skills brought him success in London, where he had a stint with storied label Huntsman & Sons in the early 1970s.
In 1974, he found a position with Maurice Sedwell—the only shop that would hire a non-white tailor. Ramroop eventually bought the store in 1988, becoming the first person of color to own a shop on Savile Row. In 2008, the Master Tailor founded the Savile Row Academy to train the tailors of tomorrow, and was also handed an OBE honor from the Queen. Ramroop continues to train aspiring tailors at the SRA, while Maurice Sedwell still makes quality suits with him at the helm.
Ozwald Boateng

Design CreditsOzwald Boateng

Are you a fan of Jamie Foxx or Will Smith's red carpet looks? If so, you must also be a fan of Ozwald Boateng, the man behind all those damn good looking suits.
The London designer, by way of Ghana, launched his namesake label in 1994 and has since become known for his tailoring skills. In fact, plenty have taken notice, including the folks who made Ocean's Thirteen and The Matrix—Boateng designed bespoke costumes for both films. In his years in the industry, he opened a store on London's legendary Savile Row, making him the youngest and first African to do so, and was the creative director at Givenchy from 2004 to 2007. He also undoubtedly helped revolutionize suiting. But this is no surprise, considering he had handmade suits made for him when he was a kid.
Tracy Reese

Design CreditsTracy Reese

Fact: Any brand Michelle Obama wears becomes an instant hit (what's up Jason Wu?) But Tracy Reese may be a special case; she was already a big deal before the First Lady wore one of her designs.
Reese launched her original namesake label in 1987, and although she struggled to keep it afloat for a couple of years, all is good now in Tracy's world. Since relaunching her line in 1997, with the help of her loving dad (and his bank account), she's expanded her company to include home decor, shoes, and accessories. Also, she's helped women all over the world look better. Even big names like Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, and Eva Longoria have all hopped on and worn Reese's sophisticated and classy designs.
Willi Smith

Design Credits: WilliWear

The late-great Willi Smith (he died of AIDS in 1987) designed comfortable and inexpensive sportswear for men and women all over America under his label, Willi Wear. The Philadelphia-native, who eventually moved to New York City's SoHo neighborhood, kept his eye on the arts scene and was often inspired by street culture, which is why his work was often referred to as "Street Couture."
His collections usually included plenty of colors and prints (some consider him to be the first to mix and match plaids, stripes, and colors, especially in menswear). He also won the Coty American Fashion Critics' Award for Women's Fashion in 1983. WilliWear was a huge success; it was sold in more than 500 shops, and eventually helped him land a few other gigs. Said gigs included designing Mary Jane's wedding gown in a Spider-Man comic, as well as outfitting the cast of Spike Lee's classic, School Daze. Long live Willi Smith.
Dapper Dan

Design CreditsDapper Dan

From his 125th street tailoring shop, Dapper Dan has influenced hip-hop fashion since 1982. Originally taking fabrics from the likes of Louis Vuitton and MCM and repurposing them into custom garments, his clientele soon expanded from neighborhood hustlers to rap pioneers like Rakim and Funkmaster Flex. His handiwork can be seen on album art like the cover of Eric B. and Rakim'sFollow The Leader and Paid In Full to '90s style icons like Mike Tyson and Salt and Pepa. While he never released a collection proper, his influence and legacy on hip-hop style remains. Any time someone apes designer fashion in an attempt to put in in the context of street culture, Dapper Dan is the guy who started that.