Day 6:the bare invisible beauty of revolutionary real people.

Today the PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE eerily co-mingle for us with three milestones.

Naomi Sims blue 

PAST: Model Naomi Sims died on Saturday at age 61. 

Naomi Sims on Life

1969.  Before there was a Miss Naomi Campbell there was a Miss Naomi Sims. Two years after of the Summer of Love, Naomi Sims appeared on LIFE magazine with a headline “Black Models Take Center Stage”, a seemingly prophetic title and now just seeming somewhat ironic, archaic and naive.  She was considered the “first black supermodel” for her cover of Ladies Home Journal in 1968, modeled for five years and became a very successful business woman with her wig-making business and her authoring of five books on beauty and modeling.

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PRESENT: Today, speaking of invisible beauty, here are Bethann Hardison and Bruce Weber, two extraordinary behind-the-scenes image creators, at the Gordon Parks Foundation gala from Kenya Hunt’s blog.

FUTURE: Toccara Jones and Bethann’s Invisible Beauty

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Italy once again celebrates diversity, this time with curves in a La Stampa article. Jean Paul Gaultier and Dolce & Gabbana have been the most curve-friendly designers and Steven Meisel carried the torch when he chose plus-size black model, Toccara Jones, for her celebrated curves in the all black issue of Vogue Italia. 

We vote Toccara, Most Likely To Succeed and Showcase the Bare Invisible Beauty of Revolutionary Real People. She took her success on America’s Next Top Model and is full-on starting her future wealth early with her TV appearances and her fitness videos for sale on her site, The Fabulous Toccara.

INVISIBLE BEAUTY

Invisible Beauty, is Bethann Hardison’s documentary, in the works for eight years. The film is an intimate look at the industry where astonishingly, black women are becoming invisible, despite the accomplishments of several black supermodels in previous decades. Bethann never wanted the revolutionary slant but her team felt the racism as she told her stories.  The film’s producer is Selina Lewis Davidson with Jeff Zimbalist as Co-Director. 

When I called Bethann a “Superstar” the other day, she politely corrected me. “Call me a Revolutionary,” she said.

The torch of celebrating Invisible Beauty must be kept lit.  Diversity is a Beaut.

Click here for the event “Fashion Beyond The Pale”


antonio lopez gold

The 1980’s, in the fashion world, being of color and gay was to be celebrated…today, in 2009, it seems that we have made both huge strides forward and vast puzzling backward steps at the same time.  Eighties icons of color in the fashion industry such as Antonio Lopez, illustrator and designers, Willi Smith and Patrick Kelly were Colorful Characters who delighted in their cultures and shared them liberally… distinctly moving the needle Beyond The Pale in a way not seen today.

As I write this post, I am aware of the huge sea-change in the presence and design output of designers of color.  Today the term “urban or street fashion” is the dominant mode of business and expression as designed by powerhouse names such as Kimora Lee, P.Diddy, Russell Simmons and Marc Ecko.  Embraced by all races, and notable for this reason and many others, however, there is a couture sensibility encapsulating a rich cultural history that seems to be missing in the industry.  A look at designers and illustrators from the 1980’s makes one wish for the sophisticated, elegant and playful references that were the language of color beyond the hip hop lifestyle confines that currently define urban fashion.  (Notable exceptions today include Rachel Roy, Tracy Reese, Patrick Robinson…more to come on them!)

Aren’t we all awaiting a young designer to take on the iconographic richness of African culture, build on what Patrick Kelly began to hint at… in the way a Lagerfeld took Chanel’s language of freedom and power…and change the game?

This is part of the dream for Fashion Beyond The Pale.

We seek to discover new luminaries while celebrating the powerful legacy of designers, models and visionaries of color.  Here are my LIGHTS that we honor from the Eighties…

Antonio Lopez  (1943 – 1987)

antonio sketch

 

“To Antonio, illustration was not merely a tool to sell high priced clothing to the upper class white woman, but to demonstrate that regardless of ethnicity, social class, gender or sexual orientation, any individual could evoke their own glamour and style.” Chou belle blog

Antonio Lopez was the crowning dessert of my diet of Kenneth Paul Block, Joe Eula and Mats Gustafson in art school as a Fashion Illustration Major. (Yes, that major actually existed during the art’s last hurrah in the 80’s.) A prodigy as an intern at WWD,Women’s Wear Daily,  Lopez’s style of illustration had all the detail and reverence of the Italian masters.  He was one of fashion’s shining stars who died too early at 44 from AIDS, yet interestingly, he was engaged to Jerry Hall.  Antonio’s illustrations enhanced the career of Jerry Hall and of all his “girls”, Grace Jones, Jessica Lange, Pat Cleveland among many.  They shine in the bible of his work,“Antonio’s Girls.”

antonio lopez and lagerfeld

antonio sketch 2antonio lopez in jardin de luxembourg

Two key factors emerge when looking at the inspiration and history of fashion genius among people of color, families who sewed or did tailoring and extended stays in Paris. For Lopez, growing up in NYC, his seamstress mother, would ask him to draw flowers for her embroideries. His father was a mannequin maker who had his son apply make-up to the forms and stitch their wigs. 

Metamorphosing pop-art and surrealism with tropical imagery and the glamour of the first Supermodels dancing on top of tables at Les Bains Douche, the famed nightclub in Paris, Lopez’s art created and celebrated an ideal of multi-ethnic girls whose representations had much to do with shaping the standards of late twentieth-century beauty…beyond the pale.

Willi Smith (1948 – 1987)  

Willi Smith

 

“I don’t make clothes for the Queen, but for the people on the street who wave as she passes.” Willi Smith

On the street in the Eighties, I very happily wore my olive green pleated Willi Smith skorts and the cherry red Indian cotton hammer pants with tops from Renaissance or white muscle tanks and 1950’s sparkly pumps.  I loved the sense of play and air embodied in them as I danced through several Summer evenings which turned into dawn street parties as we spilled out from the clubs at 6 am, dizzy, sweaty and blissed-out from hours of dancing.

Beyond my own memories, historically Willi Smith influenced Patrick Robinson, designer at The Gap into fashion, saving him from a medical school jaunt and gave Bethann Hardison her modeling career start upon a chance meeting in an elevator according to this great Bethann article on the fashion bomb blog.

With a business worth 25 million dollars at one point and prestigious industry awards, one could say that Willi Smith invented the idea of “street wear”. This excellent article on Willi Smith mentions his pioneering use of videos and the iconography of the street- brick walls, street signs and traffic lights in his showroom- to sell his concept, visual staples of urban style today.

Patrick Kelly (1954 – 1990)

“No other well-known fashion designer has been so inextricably linked to both his race and his culture. And no other designer was so purposeful in exploiting both”, wrote Robin Givhan in The Washington Post in a fascinating article.

Big color, big buttons and big smiling black faces.  Mississippi-born Patrick Kelly celebrated his culture and race in a fun and delightful way.  Like many creative Americans of color he moved to Paris, reflective of other pioneers of color such as Josephine Baker, James Baldwin and yes, Grace Jones.  Champions of Kelly’s work included Bette Davis, Isabella Rossellini and Cicely Tyson, whose patronage helped him to eventually secure backing from Warnaco, the industry giant.  Kelly was the first American admitted to the Chambre Syndicale, France’s prestigious organization of fashion designers.  Unfortunately, he too succumbed to AIDS at this height of his career and this bright star was lost.    

These images and a great homage can be found on Mr. Peacock’s blog.

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Oliviero Toscani’s photo shows the Love.

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PatrickKelly himself

The love for Patrick Kelly is enduring.

Mr. Peacock (one of my favorite blogs) pays homage to Patrick Kelly with this dress with a button heart, shown above.

The Brooklyn Museum Patrick Kelly: A Retrospective show, exactly five years ago, in 2004, was organized by guest curator Thelma Golden, Deputy Director for Exhibitions and Programs at The Studio Museum in Harlem.

Here is more insight from Robin Givhan’s excellent article.

“…Kelly’s legacy bears few indications of self-doubt, anger or hatred — self- or otherwise. Instead, it is relentlessly, ruthlessly joyful, a spirit that is captured in the exhibition. By embodying the stereotypes, Kelly sought to deflate them. He was a cheerful and charming radical who handed out his tiny black plastic baby dolls — their lips dyed bright red — to anyone he might meet.

“The most direct descendants of Kelly are the designers and entertainers who have sprung from hip-hop: men and women who use racial epithets as a synonym for “buddy,” who celebrate pickaninny braids and nappy roots, who model glamorous clothes after uniforms of defeat, desperation and poverty. That connection makes sense. Kelly wasn’t creating fashion as much as he was crafting a silk and satin portrait of his culture.”

“It may be that Kelly would only be disappointed that a decade after his death the images still have the power to outrage and embarrass.”

robin givhan, patrick kelly

Can you imagine this imagery today during our times of Obama, racist pool members and the Gates arrest?

Click here for the event “Fashion Beyond The Pale”


Halston and Pat cleveland

Black was always beautiful to me.  

For this ecstatic white child, I can trace this love from bouncing on top my father’s shoulders at a Sly and the Family Stone concert at age 5 to being friends with Debbie Huff, whose dad was Leon Huff of the legendary Gamble and Huff, to meeting backstage the O’Jays due to my entourage status at age 14 to listening to Mumia Abul Jamal religiously on WDAS radio growing up to being a card-carrying member of my high school’s Black Culture Club and dating Michael, the dark and lovely football star….Ah!

We weave our memories public and private as our lives are marked by historic successes of our idols, parallel tracks of our lives and in-the-flesh meetings.  As a fashion media devotee since the age of 3, the black super models of the 80’s wove through my life both personally and professionally.  To honor the Beautiful with this blog, Fashion Beyond The Pale is a dream come true. 

You touched me…

Pat Cleveland is a fellow acting school student with a friend of mine and we shared flights and convos back and forth to Paris with her and her daughter a few years back.  Here she is in the photo above with Halston…

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I remember distinctly seeing the Beverly Peele Mademoiselle magazine cover, she was the first black woman to appear on a cover and I recall the power and holding the magazine in my hands, mesmerized.  Did you know that Beverly was…

  • on the runways of Paris at age 12?
  • made her first million by age 14? 
  • at age 18, named  One of the 50 most beautiful people in the world, by People magazine (1993)?

basquiat, tina chow, warhol

Splashed all over the pages of my coveted W full color newspaper (remember?), Tina Chow is included here because she was a captivating presence in the 80’s as model and wife of Michael Chow, the famed restauranteur with friends including Andy WarholKeith HaringJean-Michel BasquiatJulian SchnabelMary Boone, and Henry Geldzahler. She was also a friend of Paloma Picasso and Manolo Blahnik.  Here she is with Jean-Michel and Warhol.  

She also stands out for me as a forward-visionary designer of big, brilliant jewelry. She put huge raw crystals in woven baskets as necklaces at the same time I was a jeweley designer and I admired her greatly. One of the first heterosexual women to become infected with HIV, she contracted her fatal illness from French fashion arbiter Kim d’Estainville.  As I experienced friends pass from AIDS, and even to support a close hetero girlfriend get it from her previously gay lover, we all held witness to the sea change.

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Karl Lagerfeld gave Veronica Webb her first break for his Chanel runway show, a moment which she TOOK brilliantly.  In the middle of the catwalk she reached in her purse, took out a banana, slowly peeled it and ate it. This image is from photographer, Tarrice Love’s blog, which features his sharp images of black and beautiful models, both men and women.

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Tyra.  I recall reading an article pre-TYRA MASSIVE, that she had mogul plans to conquer media and totally sensed the prophetic nature of her passion. You absolutely have to acknowledge that kind of singular drive, intent and vision.

Naomi

N A O M I.  THE BIGGEST, BADDEST AND BEST.

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Iman wore a JAMP necklace that I co-designed for a Bill Blass runway show in the 80’s and I recall gasping both during her runway walk and watching the films years later. A daughter of a Somalian diplomat, Iman studied Political Science where she met fashion photographer, Peter Beard who insisted she come to America. 

Historic Gorgeous.  

  • 1979, the first black woman to appear on the cover of Vogue. 
  • the first woman of color to sign a cosmetics contract.
  • one of the most socially conscious women in the celebrity world. 
  • devoted wife of David Bowie.

grace jones

G R A C E.  Who is Sasha Fierce?  Grace was the Fierest of all. I can karaoke her to death and I hate karaoke. The image of her dancing on tables at Le Bain in Paris and every word of her songs told the story of my life in the 80s.  The Original Club Kid, her voice rang in my ears in Miami, NYC at the best-club-ever-anywhere,The Saint, Paradise Garage, Danceteria,Zanzibar in Newark and anonymous clubs all over Europe.

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Have to include Gia in here.  While not African American, her dark and beautiful, smouldering sexy looks, sweet smile and tough and tragic life story in the fashion world are integral for me personally as I knew her and she is likewise legendary for many when looking back to the 80’s.  Gina was in my crowd.  We were a mixed race, daring,hyper, urban, bi-sexual art school clique in Philadelphia. I will never forget Gia’s presence in the room, her laugh and her pout. Angelina Jolie in the movie, Gia,is not Gia for me.  

Her edgy life ran along mine and I hold her memory dear.

Click here for the event “Fashion Beyond The Pale”

 



 

19black-600 NY Times

Relax?  ONE THOUSAND, FOUR HUNDRED issues of American Vogue and only FIVE covers graced by people of color? You better work Supermodel!

With the refrain: “We already have our black girl“, still being heard, we still have much work to do.  Images like Naomi above and Sessilee Lopez in Harpers Bazaar which don’t fetishize, isolate or stereotype are thankfully on the rise.

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“But what changes fashion? What would finally move American designers to include more black models on their runways? That THIRTY percent of the country is nonwhite? That black women spend TWENTY-BILLION a year on clothes? That an African-American is the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic Party?

The answer is the individual eye.”

Cathy Horyn, in the New York Times, June 19, 2008, covering the soon-to-be-released Italian Vogue last summer.

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This famous eye belongs to Donyale Luna a full FORTY-TWO years before Steven Meisel‘s eye cast the now famous Italian Vogue issue. Donyale was the first black supermodel to make cover girl status in 1966 on British Vogue.  A Detroit native, she was notoriously strange from birth.  Salvadore Dali loved her, she was the wife of Maximilion Schell and she was a fan of LSD.

1969. Naomi Sims appeared on the cover of Life magazine, with a cover headline “Black Girls Take Center Stage”.  The recent death of Naomi Sims reflects 40 years of change.

Beyonce is center stage, Michelle Obama is center stage, Oprah is center stage, Tyra is center stage…perhaps our standards of beauty are changing from within and more cover girls of color are around the bend…again.

EIGHT years later after Donyale Luna, girl-next-door type, Beverly Johnson, made American Vogue.

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“They don’t put blacks on the cover.  You should be happy with what you have.  Who do you think you are?”

In 1974, Beverly Johnson finally heard otherwise.  Although she is a thrilling legend and this was a thrilling event, she looks like ONE PERCENT OF THE BLACK GIRLS I KNOW.

THIRTY-FOUR years later, in 2008, while Italian Vogue was most likely being staged and shot, American Vogue gave us this controversial cover with Le Bron James and Gisele for its “Size and Shape Issue.”

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Was it racist? Was it just “game face”?  Could you see a white hockey player and Naomi?  Would it still rankle?

In a business (the magazine biz) that is struggling, when an issue such as the Black Italian Vogue sells SIX HUNDRED AND FIFTY FOUR PERCENT more issues than the previous one did…maybe we begin to wake up from our black and white world to multi-colored splendour.

BTW! Kudos to my friend Claude Grunitsky and his Trace magazine‘s annual “Black Girls Rule” issue on stands NOW!

front_cover_issue85 Trace BGR

Cover girl Arlenis Sosa on being a model of color and a role model… 

“For me, it’s just about being me. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, brown or white. Everyone has an opportunity. I just want to work. It’s tough for top models. You have to be responsible and get things right because you know someone behind you is looking up to you. Journalists ask me all the time will I change. I just want to be the original me. Be natural. You don’t have to change.”

from: the stylist.com blog

Click here for the event “Fashion Beyond The Pale”


 

Chanel Iman

Malheur!  Seems like the kids can’t swim in the Pool in Pennsylvania nor walk the Runways in Paris. Paris prefers whites only on the runways so whose brands should we support?  Runways have huge visual influence on how we see ourselves and our world and clearly the vision from top Paris designers is: See White Only or White Preferably.

Only TWO Black skinned Beauties on the top five designer catwalks. Chanel Iman (above) at Dior and new-comer R’el Dade at Valentino.

Rel Dade, long dress

She’s exquisite and everyone commented on her Presence.

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See the “Score Bored” below of Chanel, Armani, Dior, Givenchy and Valentino.  Do you buy these names?  Maybe time to vote with one’s designer purse. A ticket to Fashion Beyond The Pale in New York in September is another VOTE FOR CHANGE.

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Jean Paul Gaultier for Dior did the best to mix it up racially as he chose Lakshmi Menon from India and Liu Wen from China.

Lakshmi Menon is an Indian model now regularly seen on the runways of New York and Paris, in international fashion publications and advertising.

Lakshmi Menon

London’s Independent has some great commentary on India’s first supermodel:  One can’t help but ask, what took so long? …skin colour and ethnicity are a different matter and, in the past decade, public demands for a greater number of black models have made it clear that there is no excuse for the fashion world’s failure to embrace non-Caucasian women. Strangely, however, little mention has been ever made of the absence of Indian and South Asian girls on the runways.

Here is Liu Wen at Dior.

Liu Wen

Shu Pei Quin at Chanel

shu pei quin

 

Buyers in China perhaps?  Where are my couture wearing Black Superstars calling out these brands in songs? Where are my couture wearing sport stars, executives, artists, engineers and entrepreneurs?   What are you wearing, buying, coveting? Shoes, bags, sunglasses all cast your vote.  What will you boycott?  Hmmm…

SCORE BORED

Givenchy     0

Dior   3    Jean Paul Gaultier is Best of Show with Chanel, Liu and Lakshmi

Chanel  2     Shu Pei Qin and Daul Kim

Valentino 1    R’el Dade

Armani    0

(most images from style.com)

Click here for the event “Fashion Beyond The Pale”


Alva ChinnOK, I had this exact outfit!  So this is famed model, Alva Chinn.  Can you picture Alva in a yoga class in Child’s pose where my partner, Michelle Barge is teaching and is the only one to recognize the famous “Halstonette”?  The famed designer’s favorite model was elusive to find since her yoga class appearances and we so wanted her and others to be a part of the Fashion Beyond The Pale event!

elusive, that is…until today’s Classic New York moment where Michelle spied her inside of a closed subway car about to leave the platform.  The two exchanged excited mouthings to “Call Me!” “How do I find You?” while I watched in awe and the subway lurched forward.  What a sign!  Alva!

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Here is Alva with designer, Stephen Burrows.  

Two Facebooking friending/re-uniting happenings of interest related to the event and this subject are with Sophie Theallet, one of my favorite new designers, who used an all black cast of models in her last show and Kelly E. Carter, the entertainment writer who told me of her lunch with Bethann, Iman and Galina Espinoza of People magazine where they passionately discussed the issue as People was considering a story.

Uptown magazine recently interviewed Bethann.  Len Burnett, Uptown‘s publisher, is another person very passionate about this issue.  When the all-black Italian Vogue came out last year, he was immediately ready to do an event like this. Can you believe, that I read today that someone actually said they were worried about the issue selling???  Actually, sales were up 654% from the previous issue in bookstores across America and you can read all over the web how all over the world people were frantic trying to find copies.

If this were not enough, I’ll end this post today with my favorite image on my desktop lately.  It says it all.

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Click here for the event “Fashion Beyond The Pale”


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My first call was to Bethann Hardison. “The Goddess” championing for Women and Men of Color on the runways and fashion pages. We see her as the heralder and voice for visibility beyond the Pale. (image from Uptown magazine’s recent article)

anne loweheadshotSecond call. I had a vibrant talk with Rosemary E. Miller, the author of  “The Threads of Time, the Fabric of History: Profiles of African- American Dressmakers and Designers from 1850 to the Present.”  (2007, T & S Press, ISBN #0-970-9713-0-3) Have been a fan since discovering her book and the super compelling portrait of Anne Lowe, the designer of Jackie O’s wedding dress.

Jackie Kennedy's wedding dress

In her book,Rosemary E. Reed Miller writes that Ann’s mother designed clothes for the wife of the Governor of Alabama.  Ann later designed for the ‘top’ ladies in Montgomery, Tampa, and New York City.

Reed Miller continues…”Ann’s most famous wedding party commission was from the mother of Jackie Bouvier in September 12, 1953. Joe Kennedy made sure the wedding got maximum exposure for his senator son. However, Jackie didn’t promote Ann’s name, and only Nina Hyde, who was the social, fashion editor of the Washington Post wrote that the dress was designed by a Negro, Ann Lowe.”   

Jackie+Kennedy+Wedding
There is so much history here going all the way back to Lincoln’s day with Elizabeth Keckly. Here, from Amazon reviews, is the story: “Born a slave in 1818, Elizabeth endured 37 years of abuse, including forced sexual relations (and a resulting pregnancy) before buying freedom for herself and her son. Once free, she used her sewing skills to become one of Washington D.C.’s most successful dressmakers. Then she closed her dress shop to care for the first lady after her husband’s assassination, and she lost many valuable customers. A misguided attempt to help save Mrs. Lincoln’s reputation with a book entitled Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House ended the friendship. The book was seen as a cruel betrayal, and Keckley eventually died in a home for destitute women and children in 1907. Rutberg’s account is interesting, but not as gripping as Keckley’s own book, which gives an often terrifying glimpse into the life of a slave.”

These images give me chills especially knowing how much more honor these women are due. Rosemary speaks passionately about the elegance of dressing elegantly and the lack of recognition for the skills of tailoring.  (one of my favorite subjects)  She wondered where the football stadiums were to celebrate the primarily women’s art of sewing and adornment.  

Keckly-portrait

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Rosemary is doing the third edition of her book, updating it to over 100 portraits.  I am praying that she joins us for this event as an advisor.  My dream is an exhibit of this wealth of history that Rosemary has documented.

Sola Oyebade

Third Outreach. Sola Oyebade.  Back to the present day.  Sola heads up Mahogany Model Management in London and is very outspoken on this issue.  

Click here for the event “Fashion Beyond The Pale”