Highlighting black fashion icons paving the way for the rest to come was not only a must but EXTREMELY NEEDED. We often forget how powerful we are due to the daily hatred, mockery and disrespect we face. I can go on for DAYS about that but this read is dedicated to the hidden figures in the fashion & modeling world.
Zelda Wynn Valdes
Valdes helped create the playboy costume which Hugh Hefner commissioned himself. Sis.. it gets better and better. She created gowns for Dorothy Danridge, Marlene Dietrich and many other stars. Valdes became known for her precision when it came to sewing, opened up her own boutique ship on W 158th street which many stated that her Boutique became the go-to for black women who were not accepted into the White owned stores. I don’t know about anyone else but I STAN ZELDA she did what had to be done. PERIOD.
Tracey “Africa” Norman
Norman muva of “In the House Of Africa” was the first black trans women model. Featured on the Clairol No.512 1970’s auburn shade of box dye SERVING FACE. During this time Norman had to hide who she really was.. shit still to this day many are forced to hide who they really are due to the backlash they receive. Tracey was outed and dropped from every gig imaginable. However .. she recently began to model for Clairol again at the of 63!
Lowe taught by her grandmother and mother how to sew at the age of 16 created four gowns for the first lady of Alabama. At 21 she opened her own dress shop in Florida.. but that just wasn’t enough for our sis Anne. She then moved back to NYC and opened shop in Harlem. Her gowns were sold in Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth avenue and many others. They would also be displayed at the opening of the Natural Museum Of African American History. Lowe was the great-granddaughter of a black seamstress and a white plantation owner. The tea just gets hotter and hotter.
Smith who passed away from AIDS related complications will always be remembered as one of the most successful young black fashion designers in the fashion industry. Smith knew that a lot of people did not have the coin to be decked out in couture so he created “Williwear” inexpensive sportswear and clothing that included bright colors, natural fabrics and prints. He designed for Willi wear for 11 years and was the first to feature women’s and men’s wear under the same brand. WE LOVE AN INCLUSIVE QUEEN. Smith continued to be booked and busy. Amongst many other projects Smith designed Mary Jane’s gown for her marriage to the Amazing Spiderman.
First solo black model to grace the cover of Playboy magazine, keep in mind this was before any other major fashion mags decided to have our melanin sister’s bless covers and spreads. That cover would then sell over 6 million copies. Stern began getting runway gigs and cover shoots for Ultra sheen, Essence, + more. Even though Darine does not get as much recognition as her peers her legacy will always live on. Morgan Jerkins said it best “Darine’s story demonstrates the constraints of what black women could have been and the flowers they could have been given while they were still alive.”
First black supermodel to grace the cover of Vogue’s 1974’s issue. This moment took decades to happen! Initially Johnson was rejected by Ellen Ford and then later accepted by Ford Models. Back then they didn’t want her now she hot they all on her. Johnson wasn’t just a pretty face she tackled civil rights and of course opened doors for many other black models.
This list was super hard to configure with all the research put in BLACK PEOPLE OWNED THE FASHION INDUSTRY. So much so that if I listed everyone I would reach the maximum word limit. But check out the honorable mentions below you will be overwhelmed by all the black excellence TRUSTTTT.
Carl Jones & TJ Walker
Sara Lou Harris
Laikyn is a women with her hands dipped in a selection of fields. A freelance stylist and Harlem native residing in Brooklyn. In her spare time she enjoys picking up her film camera, anything Grow/n related , thrifting her life away and FOOD.