The fashion industry seldom highlights the African-American innovators who have contributed to it. Well, we will do it.
In recent years, a large number of fashion brand crimes were recorded. Remember when H&M posted a promotional photo of a black boy in a T-shirt that was reading the book ”The coolest monkey in the jungle”? Months back, Italian mega-influencer Gucci released a “balaclava knit” that annoyed the black community because it resembled a blackface. At the same time, Katy Perry removed similar shoes from her line and apologized. Happy Black history month, right?
You can’t talk about black history without respecting the innovators who have helped shape history today. The fashion industry seldom highlights the African American innovators who have contributed. But he still uses culture to “create” ideas and promote shocking values. In honor of Black History Month, we’ll talk about black Americans who helped lead the way.
Fashion is currently improving diversity and inclusion (from size and shape to all shades of brown) on the runways, despite monthly infractions. Virgil Abloh brought us in from Off-White, Maxwell Osborne maximizes public school, and Tracey Reese has managed to maintain his namesake brand for just over 22 years. But before they lay the legacy of exceptional black designers who opened this door.
Anne Lowe was a little-known African-American designer who designed stunning formal outfits for the wealthy elites. Born in Clayton, Alabama, in 1898 to a family of tailors and embroiderers, Lowe became an expert on her ability to create intricate floral ornaments, which would later attract the attention of a wealthy Floridian woman. Dreaming of moving and thriving in New York City (like so many designers before and after her), she moved to Big Apple and started working for prestigious brands like AF Chantilly and Sonia Gowns, which is an introduction to high society from the city. It quickly became a favorite of opera lovers and high society brides from the 1920s to the 1960s. In 1953 she had her greatest luck as the designer of a unique silk wedding dress worn by Jacqueline Bouvier. She wore this dress when she married Senator John F. Kennedy. He retired in 1972 and died in 1981 after a long illness. But she and her designs will live on forever in the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Museum of History and Culture of the African Smithsonian Institution.
Jan Ernst Matzeliger
Jan Ernst Matzeliger, born in Guyana, the Netherlands, a country in South America now called Suriname, emigrated to the United States and found work in a shoe factory. On March 20, 1883, Matzeliger invented the shoe-making machine that so many inventors before him had not been able to perfect. This “durable machine” quickly attached the upper part of the shoe to the sole of the shoe, making production ten times more efficient and affordable. This fashion invention revolutionized the industry. Matzeliger became one of the main founders of the consolidated company for the production of sustainable machines, organized around his invention. Matzeliger died in 1889, leaving behind the legacy of starting what was once considered an impossible business, that made shoes accessible to the masses and created more jobs for them.
Zelda Wynn Valdes
Zelda Wynn Valdés was born on June 18, 1905, in a working-class family. Her career began at the top of Jim Crow when black seamstresses were at the bottom of the salary totem pole. With her designer look, attention to detail, and undeniable technical precision, she quickly acquired a reputation as a highly sought-after seamstress. With this recognition and her natural courage given by God, she opened her boutique. Because of her ability to transform satin, silk organza, and a knitted Jersey into enviable evening dresses, she earned the clientele of Ella Fitzgerald. However, she is probably best known as the initial costume designer of Playboy Bunny. She also built wedding dresses and elegant dresses that could transition from work clothes to party clothes. Her Broadway boutique has become a goddess to high society people, the wives of famous blacks, and stars Known as Edna Mae Robinson and Josephine Baker, to name a few.
African-American designer Patrick Kelly was one of the first sensations in Paris and became the first American to join the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter, a prestigious haute couture, and ready-to-wear house. His projects included fun decorations like shiny buttons, ribbons, and faces. However, in 1985 he purposely sent the model out on the runway in a black printed dress. He used his talent to fight racism.
Jay Jaxon was born in 1941 in New York City and entered the fashion industry for his girlfriend a seamstress. He started his career at the age of 24, training with Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior in Paris. In 1965, he took over the whole house of Jean-Louis Scherrer intending to invent and change a failed brand, making him the first black American couturier. His designs were sold in luxury department stores such as Bonwit Teller and Bendel, and he went on to work on popular TV shows “Ally McBeal” and “American Dreams.” Although Jean-Louis Scherrer’s home eventually collapsed, most people do not know of Jay Jackson’s leadership career in the fashion industry.
The dominant culture of today has decided to bypass these men and women. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t made serious progress. Its history is worth knowing. Their story opened doors.