by LaMont Jones
For New Pittsburgh Courier
NEW YORK CITY—Although getting a piece of the action at New York fashion week isn’t cheap or easy, Black designers continue to make their presence known during the twice-yearly event.
Black designers are underrepresented at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week each February and September, partly because they are disproportionately fewer in number. When you add the high cost and limited opportunities to show at the main venue at Lincoln Center, it’s even more difficult to grab a piece of the international spotlight.
However, because the eight-day fashion weeks in Manhattan are the largest, most visible, and most influential fashion events in the nation, both emerging and established designers understand the importance of doing something, anything, to get their names and designs before an audience.
This time around, a few well-known Black womenswear designers showed their fall 2012 collections. The majority did so under the auspices of IMG, organizer of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Tracy Reese was the only one to show at the high-priced tents erected at Lincoln Center. Rising star Rachel Roy and living legends B Michael and Stephen Burrows, like many other designers, have opted in recent years to stage their presentations somewhere cheaper.
Reese has been a mainstay at the tents for more than a decade and is probably the most commercially and critically successful current Black designer in America. A former womenswear design director at Perry Ellis, she opened a flagship boutique in Manhattan’s meatpacking district in 2006 and a chic store in Tokyo last year.
Her fall-winter collection included more of her ladylike and confident looks in lively colors and bold patterns on textiles as diverse as tweed, peplum, stretch crepe and lamé. She makes some of the most fetching coats and dresses in the women’s market, and this time gave her tops a saucy twist while taking skirt hems a little higher.
Roy introduced a collection inspired by a group of environmentally conscious women who have influenced landscape architecture. She played on the season’s hard-soft trend with contrasting textures, masculine tweeds morphed into feminine silhouettes, and pretty embellishments such as beads and embroidery. The line had a charmingly nostalgic ’70s feel.
Roy, ex-wife of hip-hop mogul Damon Dash, has come into her own as a designer, her collections reflecting more thought and finer execution each season. With a successful line at Macy’s and a higher-end line elsewhere, she is riding momentum.
As always, B Michael sent out sleek, sophisticated looks that could take a woman to the office or to a red-carpet ceremony in style. His forté is his ability to create dramatic yet tasteful looks that exude confidence and power.
Michael designed for luminaries such as Louis Feraud and Oscar de la Renta before striking out on his own in the latter Nineties, and it’s clear from his textile selection, draping, and tailoring why he continues to be a favorite among women who love glamour. There were none of his show-stopping hats this time around, but there were plenty of dresses, gowns, and suits that are sure to please his clients.
Stephen Burrows, who has dressed some of America’s most famous women since the early 1960s, showed a collection inspired by the chevron pattern that was heavy on chic dresses. He also unveiled jeans done in collaboration with high-end Los Angeles denim brand Raven. Like much of Burrows’ designs, the denim styles are 70s-inspired, and they are named for iconic women of the era such as models Grace Jones and Pat Cleveland.
Burrows, who has a star on the CFDA Fashion Walk of Fame in Manhattan, gave the world the lettuce hem, the wrap dress, and the runway fashion show. He was the first African-American designer to achieve international fame and, at 68, continues to create clothes that are beautiful and practical.
Emerging design duo Cushnie et Ochs continues to set tongues atwitter, and London-born Carly Cushnie is one reason why. She is an ideal complement for Michelle Ochs, whom she met when they were award-winning students at Parsons. They launched the brand after graduating five years ago, and Cushnie brought experience from design internships at Donna Karan, Proenza Schouler and de la Renta.
Their fall collection was a reminder of why they won the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award in 2009. There were more of their body-conscious, perfectly fitted dresses. But they also delivered some coats and dresses in eye-catching colors and a suite of uber-hot little black dresses.
Korto Momolu, runner-up on the hit reality TV show Project Runway in 2009, has shown regularly during fashion week since then and unveiled a strong fall collection at an outside venue once again. She accessorized her looks with the latest SIS jewelry designs by Simone I. Smith, wife of actor-rapper LL Cool J.