From Elizabeth Keckly's designs as a freewoman for Abraham Lincoln's wife to flamboyant clothing showcased by Patrick Kelly in Paris, Black designers have made major contributions to American fashion. However, many of their achievements have gone unrecognized. A new book, Black Designers in American Fashion, edited by MFIT Assistant Curator Elizabeth Way and inspired by the award-winning exhibition at the Museum at FIT, uncovers hidden histories of Black designers at a time when conversations about representation and racialised experiences in the fashion industry have reached all-time highs.
In chapters from leading and up-and-coming authors and curators, Black Designers in American Fashion uses previously unexplored sources to show how Black designers helped build America's global fashion reputation. From enslaved 18th-century dressmakers to 20th-century “star” designers, via independent modistes and Seventh Avenue workers, the book traces the changing experiences of Black designers under conditions such as slavery, segregation, and the Civil Rights Movement. Black Designers in American Fashion shows that within these contexts Black designers maintained multifaceted practices which continue to influence American and global style today.
"In many ways [Black Designers in American Fashion] is a sad commentary about the world of fashion, but the knowledge gained here is irreplaceable and found in no other publication. This is not a coffee table book; this is a book that must actually be read in order to comprehend just how important Black designers have been and how in some cases made monumental and historical contributions to fashion." - New York Journal of Books
Interweaving fashion design and American cultural history, the book fills critical gaps in the history of fashion and offers insights and context to students of fashion, design, and American and African American history and culture. Watch the video above for a conversation between editor Elizabeth Way and authors Kristen E. Stewart, Katie Knowles, and Darnell Jamal Lisby as they discuss the significance of Black American fashion makers from the nineteenth century to the late twentieth century. Black designers have always impacted American fashion culture, and these scholars' works reveal their erased histories.
Black Designers in American Fashion is edited by Elizabeth Way and published by Bloomsbury. Visit the website to read an extract of the book, or to find out more.