This month we celebrate Black History and the amazing humans who have fought, contributed, created, and worked to make America the wonderful tapestry that it is. So we want to take a moment to celebrate African American contributions to fashion.
To do so we picked three icons across multiple decades (and centuries) that we love. Our goal is to highlight and drive awareness. We hope this quick read encourages to continue to dig and find a few favorites of your own.
Born into slavery, owned by her father, and later his daughter (who was also her half-sister) Elizabeth bore the brunt of slavery’s brutality. She was beaten and forced to serve as a nursemaid to an infant at the age of four.
Elizabeth learned to sew and tailor cloth masterfully, at which point the Garland family found it profitable to offer her dressmaking service to others.
In 1855, Elizabeth bought freedom for both herself and her son. They moved to Washington D.C. where she opened a dressmaking shop and employed a staff of 20. It wasn’t long until she was known as the dressmaker of the elite, making dresses for Varina Davis (Jefferson Davis’ wife) and Mary Anna Custis Lee (the wife of Robert E. Lee).
Elizabeth however is best known as the personal dressmaker and dear friend and confidant of Mary Todd Lincoln, working in the White House throughout her later years.
In 1868 she wrote and published an autobiography - Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Both a slave narrative and a glimpse into the first family, her work is still an amazing read today!
ANDRÉ LEON TALLEY
Perhaps one of the best known of our spotlights - André Leon Talley set the fashion world and how every day Americans experienced it on its head. Sadly, we lost this NY Time’s best-selling author, journalist, editor, stylist, and fashion icon in 2022 at the age of 73.
Born in Washington D.C. in 1948 André would grow up in North Carolina where he was raised by his maternal grandmother. He would later credit her with developing his “understanding of luxury.” It was during this time he discovered an awareness and appreciation for fashion. A passion he would follow throughout his life.
Perhaps best known for his time at Vogue and a complicated relationship with editor Anna Wintour it often gets lost how important André’s influence was on making fashion more diverse. It is easily forgotten today, but early in his career diversity on the runway and through the pages of top fashion magazines was rare. Talley worked hard to change that while also championing the careers of minority fashion designers. In fact, so much of the fashion world we experience today can be credited at least in a small part to Talley.
A great little trivia bit to prove your fashion cred – It is commonly known that Talley worked with Michelle Obama to develop her fashion style. He was the person who introduced her to Jason Wu who would go on to design several gowns for her including her legendary inaugural look. Lesser known is the fact that André styled Melania Trump for her wedding to Donald. Now you know.
CHRISTOPHER JOHN ROGERS
At just 29, Rogers has achieved what some designers strive for over a lifetime career - including an American inauguration appearance, a Target collab, and a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund win.
Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Rogers cites his grandmother, in her bright, monochromatic, church outfits, as an early muse. She inspired his earliest experiments in tonal dressing, which eventually led to sketching designs intended for comic book characters.
Rogers attended Savannah College of Art and Design, where he stuck to his bold patterns and bright color combos over minimalistic style trends. He officially launched the Christopher John Rogers brand as a part of his senior thesis. After a brief stint at Diane von Furstenberg, it wasn’t long before his hustle landed looks on rapper Eve and Cardi B.
Buyers from Barneys and Net-A-Porter soon followed, along with dressing Michelle Obama in iridescent cyan, Rihanna in creamsicle orange, and Kamala Harris, in purple separates for the 2021 inauguration, in quick succession.
Rogers “pragmatic glamour” is now consistently found on runways and red carpets alike. We found it fitting that he draws inspiration from, among other things, “feeling happy”, because that’s exactly what his vibrant designs do for us.