The Rise Of American Designer In The Black Renaissance

by | Feb 16, 2023 | Fashion, Industry

Joyce Bryant wearing Zelda Wynn Valdes. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

CFDA: In the early 19th Century, The Harlem Renaissance brought forth a sense of newness through self-expression, which overpowered tropes of people among the African Diaspora in America. The Founder and Philosopher Alaine Locke, a Black and gay man, believed it was essential to honor the wave of innovators who understood how their presentation in dress would drive them to claim liberation in their everyday lives. It served as a pillar for creators such as fashion designer Zelda Wynn Valdes, who contributed to American fashion in the 1930s.

Valdes is considered one of the unforgotten mothers who birthed a space for many sons and daughters to contribute to the rich history of Blackness and innovation in American fashion. She designed the iconic Playboy Bunny costume and dressed influential figures of American culture like actresses Dorothy Dandridge and Eartha Kitt, and dancer Josephine Baker. Ann Lowe, another unforgettable mother, contributed to the rise of American fashion designers. In 1953, she designed the wedding dress for First Lady to be Jacqueline Bouvier for the moment she became the wife of future President John F. Kennedy.


Ann Lowe

During the Black Art Movement in 1968, Lowe founded the first Black-owned clothing store, Ann Lowe Originals, on Manhattan’s tony Madison Avenue. According to The Root, Lowe once stated “I am not interested in sewing for café society or social climbers. I do not cater to Mary and Sue.” It was the affirmations of women like her who spoke over themselves that would unveil history today and lead people to unapologetically celebrate their stories and design aesthetics.


Aurora James

At this seminal moment in time, there is a new generation of Black creatives in fashion making history in their own,  inspiring ways, from Aurora James through her commitment to sustainability and the game-changing Fifteen Percent Pledge to Tracy Reese, whose sustainable  Hope for Flowers clothing brand plays a notable role in Detroit’s rejuvenation.

Designers Victor Glemaud, Laquan Smith, and Christopher John Rogers present fashion and artistry from their dignity and endurance gained at the face of adversity. These are the sons that fashion mothers Valdes and Lowe manifested through their impactful accomplishments.


Victor Glemaud Spring-Summer 2023

Christopher John Rogers Collection 010

LaQuan Smith Spring-Summer 2023

Glemaud, Smith, and Rogers contribute to the endless stories of Black histories, and carry on the spirit of The Black Renaissance.

Glemaud’s sophisticated colorful fashion aesthetic is playful. He has also found a voice that showcases women’s strength through his historical knowledge of fashion, his appreciation for sportswear in American fashion, and his Haitian-American heritage.

Smith, meanwhile, has unapologetically resisted traditional dress practices among women. What some may consider  outré, Smith sees as sexy and confident. He empowers women to dress their bodies as they desire whether it is skin revealed in a high-slit dress, catsuit, or body-con dress. Influential women like his mother and grandmother, in Queens, NY, who raised him in church, served as models of empowerment for the talent.

Rogers, too, is informed by church women. His inspiration was developed in The South, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where church women’s dress practices consist of extraordinary church hats, dresses, and skirt suits that represented a sense of self-honor and dignity.

As Glemaud, Smith, and Rogers continue to design with intent, they will make an impact and create new pathways for those who come after. As innovative trendsetters and storytellers create in reflection of their values and authentic experiences, the stories will continue to be told as they should be.

It is true, Black history cannot be stopped. Black history is American history.



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