Representation is necessary in all aspects of life, and it is something that is still lacking in the fashion industry. For centuries, black designers, models, and fashion luminaries have been challenging the status quo and breaking boundaries in the fashion industry. In honor of Black History Month, a light should be shined on these fashion icons. However, spreading awareness and making inclusivity and diversity a real occurrence rather than a goal should be prioritized by everybody, on all days and months of the year.
Starting with designers, Ann Lowe was born in Alabama in 1898 and she became a dressmaker for the Rockefellers, the Roosevelts, and more high society elites, even being the craftswoman of Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress. In 1968, Lowe made history by being the first black woman to own a store on Madison Avenue, helping to pave the way for other black designers. Daniel Day, or Dapper Dan, is a designer from Harlem who became popular in the late 1980s while keeping true to his culture. After his recent comeback, he became considered as the first true luxury brand out of Harlem in 2018. Virgil Abloh, from Chicago, carved his own way up through the fashion industry and founded Off-White, a label that has gained dramatic popularity in street wear. Designers such as these have led the way for others, helping to make the fashion industry more inclusive over time.
Fashion model Dorothea Towles was the first top model of African descent to work in Paris. She was discovered by Christian Dior in 1949 and began her successful fashion career, later going on to create her own couture line. During the 1970s, Pat Cleveland and Mounia were top models walking the runway for designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, and Mounia is considered to be YSL’s first black muse. Naomi Campbell is one of the most known fashion models of all time, and she was one of the biggest supermodels of the 90s, along with Tyra Banks. Since the 90s, black models have become more prominent in the fashion industry, especially thanks to these pioneers along with many more. Winnie Harlow, Jourdann Dunn, Broderick Hunter, and Valentine Rontez are just a few top models who have been modelling for high-end brands in recent years.
Black luminaries have been found in many more places than just the fashion industry. For example, Diana Ross of the Supremes and Donna Summer, the disco queen, were known for their iconic fashion sense while working as musicians in the 60s and 70s. Athletes such as Serena Williams, actresses such as Uzo Aduba, Kerry Washington, and Zendaya, and musicians such as Solange, Beyonce, and Rihanna are quintessential fashion icons while making waves in other areas of their lives as well. Rihanna in particular went from being just a fashion icon to a fashion designer, opening her own brand, Fenty, with LVMH. Her fashion journey started with her amazing sense of style, and led to collaborations with high-end brands, even becoming a Creative Director for Puma.
In modern times, black icons in the fashion industry have been quite distinguished. However, there is still so much more to be done when it comes to not only diversity, but inclusivity in fashion. Fashion creatives of every race and ethnicity deserve a seat at the table! Anybody can help out, and you can do so by shopping at black-owned small businesses and spreading awareness while supporting the careers of black fashion designers, models, icons, and more.