Curated by Valerie Steele
People of colour have played a significant role in fashion, both as creators and as trendsetters. Yet fashion history books and museum collections tend to be overwhelmingly white. This is slowly beginning to change, as Black designers from throughout the African diaspora are increasingly recognized.
Patrick Kelly (1954-1990) grew up in Mississippi, where he was taught to sew by his grandmother. After failing to get a job in New York’s Seventh Avenue, he bought a one-way ticket to Paris, where he was discovered while selling his clothes at the flea market. Although not the first famous African-American fashion designer (he was preceded by great figures such as Ann Lowe and Stephen Burrows), Kelly was the first – in the 1980s – to be invited by the Chambre Syndicale to show his collections in Paris. Kelly’s clothes were joyful (with an iconography of hearts and Eiffel towers), but also political, as when he appropriated controversial Blackface and watermelon imagery. Other African-American designers featured in this playlist include Patrick Robinson and Lawrence Steele. Robinson worked as Kelly’s first assistant before going on to work for Giorgio Armani and launching his own collection in 1997. Educated in Chicago, Steele started his career at Moschino, then Prada, before starting his own company, also based in Italy. He was recently appointed creative director of Aspesi.
Meanwhile, in the UK, Joe Casely Hayford (d. 2019) came to prominence in the 1980s with his men’s and womenswear collections. An expert tailor who was also a directional designer, in 2009 Joe Casely Hayford teamed up with his son Charlie to found a modern menswear brand, Casely Hayford. Bruce Oldfield’s father migrated to Britain from Jamaica. His foster mother was a seamstress who encouraged his love of making clothes. Oldfield graduated from St. Martin’s School of Art and launched his first RTW collection in 1975. His most famous client was Princess Diana.
Lamine Badian Kouyaté (1962- ) was born in Bamako, Mali and moved to France in his teens. In 1992, he established his fashion company XULY.Bët – Wolof for “Keep your eyes open.” From the beginning he took a sustainable approach to design, recycling secondhand textiles and clothing to create one-of-a-kind fashions.
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