The fashion industry would not be the same without the contributions from these creative people. These black fashion designers brought something new to the work of fashion, broke barriers and helped pave the way for new designers and future designers to come. Black History Month isn’t over, and now it’s time to acknowledge some of the most creative Black fashion designers and their innovative designs.
Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley
She is best known for being the seamstress for first lady Mary Lincoln. In 1818, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. After buying her freedom she made her way to Washington, D.C., where she opened a dressmaking business. In Washington, D.C, she met first lady Mary Todd Lincoln. She made the gown that the first lady wore to Lincoln’s second inauguration. Soon after she became a dressmaker, personal stylist and friend to first lady Lincoln.
Ann Lowe was the first African American to become a well-known fashion designer. She created one-of-a-kind gowns in which she used only fine fabric. In 1953, Lowe created the wedding gown for Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding to John F. Kennedy. The dress received so much publicity, but Lowe didn’t receive any credit. Instead, they report that it was made by a colored dressmaker. In the 1960s, she was the first Black woman to own a store on Madison Avenue in New York. Today her pieces remain in multiple museums including the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Zelda Wynn Valdes
Zelda Valdes is famously known for being the creator of the iconic original Playboy bunny costume. She took pride in creating gowns that extenuated a woman’s curves and body. She was adored and favored by many Hollywood stars. Her gowns were worn by Ella Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, Diahann Carroll, Dorothy Dandridge, Ruby Dee and Eartha Kitt, just to name a few. In 1948, she opened her boutique, Chez Zelda, making her the first Black person to own a store on Broadway in Manhattan. Soon she caught the attention of Hugh Hefner, and he approached her to make one of the most well-known costumes.
Stephen Burrows learned how to sew from his grandmother. He received a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology. Burrows became the first African American to gain world designer recognition and sell his clothes internationally. His bold collections caught the attention of Diana Ross and Cher. Burrows used a lot of bright colors to make his sexy jersey dresses. Along with the “lettuce hem,” a narrow zig-zag stitch, this become his trademark, which is called the “Burrows Signature.” In 2006, he received a special tribute award hosted by the CFDA.
Anifa Mvuemba is new to the fashion industry but she has already changed the fashion world. In May 2020, the designer launched the first-ever virtual fashion show with 3D models on her Instagram. The show went viral and brought attention to her collections. Mvuemba was born in Nairobi, Kenya, but when she was three years old, her family fled to the United States to escape the war. Many of her designs have been influenced by her upbringing in Congo and she used her designs to shed light on the issues in Congo. Her designs have been worn by Zendaya, Sarah Jessica Parker and Tracee Ellis Ross.
Christopher John Rogers
Christopher John Rogers has shaken up the fashion world with his bold and dramatic designs. Recently he was chosen by Vice President Kamala Harris to design her look for this year’s 2021 inauguration. He is a recent graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design. In 2019, he received the CFDA/ Vogue Fashion Fund award for the amount of $400,000. Rogers was also named on Forbes 30 under 30 list. He has dressed many celebrity figures, including Michele Obama, Zendaya, Lizzo, Rihanna and Cardi B.