While the fashion industry isn’t the most inclusive institution, black designers are finally getting legitimate praise for their innovation and setting trends that parade across social media, runways and couture. From the beloved work of Telfar Clemens to the sustainable practices of Brother Vellies, here are five designers to celebrate this Black History Month.
The Quan Smith
The Queens native has continually graced the runways with vibrant and glamorous womenswear. Recently, he received universal acclaim for his Spring 2019 ready-to-wear collection. LaQuan Smith makes clothes that become instant trendsetters; whether it is because of her intricate and provocative patterns or her flattering silhouettes, her ingenuity and progressiveness in her designs are evident. His latest show at New York Fashion Week paid tribute to André Leon Talley and elegantly captured why his craftsmanship is impressive and important to the next generation of passionate designers.
A Haitian-American knitting connoisseur, Victor Glemaud has a daring eye for creating sensuous everyday wear. Glemaud was a CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund finalist in 2017 among other impressive accomplishments, including as studio director at Paco Rabanne and style director at Tommy Hilfiger. He recently championed the IN THE BLK global network for connecting and uplifting black creatives, describing the platform at InStyle as “a haven for like-minded creatives who want to see change.” Glemaud’s knits are often defined by their elegance and relaxed look. When thinking of knitwear, more often than not, frumpy and heavy sweaters are consistent – adjectives such as sleek, figure-hugging and sexy are unusual. Glemaud makes the latter, pushing the boundaries of women’s fashion while elevating and creating space for black creators and designers.
Clemens of Telfar
Most people know Telfar Clemens; otherwise, they must live under a rock. Clemens’ signature vegan leather Telfar shopping bag, embossed with a large “T” in all colors, has earned him notoriety in the fashion industry. It became even more popular among those who desperately wanted to get their hands on one. Clemens is highly decorated with awards and accomplishments, one being for his work designing Liberia’s uniform for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Clemens’ unisex apparel is unmatched by anything done before, considering their affordable price and trendy design accessible to everyone.
Simply put, Fe Noel consistently makes ethereal and eccentric womenswear. Inspired by her Grenadian heritage, the Brooklyn-based designer is best known for her swimwear that boosts fun patterns and bright colors. Christmas collections include all sizes and set the standard for attractive and comfortable swimwear. The designer made waves in 2019 for reworking fashion’s devotion to the Renaissance by depicting Harmonia Rosales’ black women’s art painted in standout works (think Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”) in her collection of dresses. Noel also started the Fe Noel Foundation, “Dream in Color”, which mentors young women aspiring to enter the fashion industry who have experienced anxieties similar to Noel’s. As Noel’s career is just beginning, it’s inspiring to watch her succeed while nurturing the next generation of female designers.
Founded in 2013 by Aurora James, cobbler brand Brother Vellies aimed to maintain “traditional African design practices” by working with small, sustainable artisans. Materials such as vegetable-tanned leathers, recycled tires and carved wood are among the many listed on the brand’s website – their transparency in production and dedication to eliminating the “traditional consumer cycle” is commendable. Brother Vellies is sure to take the industry by storm, especially with its dedication to sustainability. Why buy Steve Madden or Jeffrey Campbell when Brother Vellies makes trendier, well-designed, durable pieces that pay homage to traditional African design? The most stunning pieces on their website include the cheeky ying-yang style “2020 Boot”, the shiny suede “Isla Mule” and the much-loved and comfortable “Cloud Socks”. Brother Vellies’ commitment to authenticity in its production and style stands out in the industry; they retain a powerful artistry and a vision worth celebrating.
Kaitlin Clapinski covers fashion. Contact her at [email protected].