Harlem’s Fashion Row Reminds Us They’ve Been Supporting Black Designers All Along
Their fashion week show will be a virtual master class in Black excellence that you shouldn’t miss.
Black style is fashion, and amidst a racial uprising spurred by the convergence of a public health crisis and the brutal murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, the world is remembering just that with a new spotlight shone on Black brands and businesses of every kind. This spotlight is one Brandice Daniel has cast brightly for almost 15 years now, starting her organization Harlem’s Fashion Row in 2007 with the aim of uplifting and celebrating Black designers and designers of color both on and off the runway.
Tomorrow, September 13th, she will stage HFR’s 13th annual Style Awards and Fashion Show virtually on the CFDA’s Runway 360 virtual platform—the continuation of a blossoming partnership the two have forged after both the CFDA and Vogue’s A Common Thread storytelling initiative donated $1 million to Daniel’s newly minted nonprofit and BIPOC independent fashion designer fund, ICON360. Though many brands have opted out of showing this season at NYFW, like Marc Jacobs and Prabal Gurung, Daniel felt confident in moving forward with the show and awards presentation after kicking off ICON360 virtually in May. After her brand partners for the show said they were still on board and committed, it was go time for the founder and CEO, and she’s been full steam ahead ever since.
“It’s so important for us to present designers of color in the best light possible,” she tells Coveteur. “We always want to choose the best venues, and when people come to our events, we don’t want them to feel it’s any different than any other New York Fashion Week event they go to. The level of excellence is always on point, and that’s always our goal.” But how does one create that same caliber of event in a virtual space? “We hired a full production team, and we didn’t want to show up halfway,” Daniel reveals. “I think Rich Fresh [one of the designers showing] said it best when he said, with Black designers, people think it will be less than or that something will be missing. I think with Harlem’s Fashion Row, we’ve always tried to really show up.” Like so many Black creatives, Daniel and her team understand it’s not just about them. “We’re representing an entire culture, so it’s important we make that culture proud.”
The HFR honorees this year include some of the biggest names in the fashion industry: British Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Edward Enninful; Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner; The Hinton Group founder Nate Hinton; and Pyer Moss and “Your Friends in New York” founder Kerby Jean-Raymond. “Harlem’s Fashion Row has done an amazing job championing Black fashion designers,” Enninful tells Coveteur. “Receiving this award confirms and further attests to the work we all need to do within the fashion industry to keep driving change forward.” His hope for the industry in the coming months and years is that there will be a continuation of the conversations that have started with agencies, companies, designers, institutions, and beyond, to employ more Black people and people of color behind the scenes. “It’s not enough using Black faces to front campaigns, shows, or social media feeds—companies need to provide a seat at the table where crucial decisions are made.” And Peoples-Wagner is drawing hope from seeing people like Daniel continue to fight and push for change after already having such a long tenure in the industry. “Seeing her push HFR all these years and continue to elevate Black designers has made me want to push on,” she reveals.
The show is one of the highlights of the NYFW schedule each season, and this time will be no exception. We talked to the three designers presenting virtually at this year’s awards show—Kristian Loren, Kimberly Goldson, and Rich Fresh—about how they geared up for the virtual runway, creativity in a time of crisis, and how having an attitude of gratitude can take you further than you could ever imagine.
On adjusting to a virtual show and what showing with Harlem’s Fashion Row means to them:
Kristian Loren: “At first, when I heard fashion week was going to be digital, I didn’t really know how to feel about it. I grew up watching FashionTV and I always dreamt of having that New York Fashion Week moment with the models walking the runway, the music booming. However, COVID-19 is happening, and we must keep up with the times. My dream is still definitely coming true, and after experiencing a digital runway, I like it a lot. I’ve worked in fashion and been a model agent, so I’ve seen the chaotic side of fashion week and how it can be a hot mess. So I love digital runway shows. Everything is organized, the models have time to change from one look to another look, and it’s a digital era, so you can edit things to come out the way you want them to look. From the model’s point of view, they’re not stretched so thin either. They can book a lot more jobs and plan things in advance as things are being executed more thoroughly. Fashion week feels less stressful than it used to be.”
Kimberly Goldson: “I have mixed emotions about it as well, being digital. I love the camaraderie at the fashion shows, especially for Harlem’s Fashion Row events, because it feels like a Black fashion family reunion. I miss that aspect. But what I do love about going virtual and digital is that it allows us to be more creative. We had to rethink and reimagine what we normally would do and were limited in doing with just a runway. So this allows for bigger ideas.”
Rich Fresh: “I think we were all looking forward to being amongst other designers and seeing how we vibe. I feel like that’s how we grow as artists—just being around other creatives. When a show is live “live,” that’s where the anxiety comes from because you don’t know what’s going to happen next. With digital, you can tweak something and move the order of things. This is my first collection, so it made the process of showing it what I dreamed it would be—a pleasant experience.”
Where they’re drawing inspiration from during a time of crisis and the creative elements we can expect to see in their collections:
KL: “A lot of my collections are inspired by travel and life experiences, so I was heavily on Pinterest looking at travel photos. I made a huge collage board based on the colors of the places I was planning to go and want to go, and it grew from there. With the pandemic going on, designing a collection felt therapeutic and like an escape from reality.”
KG: “I had the idea for fall 2020—which is what we’re showing on Sunday—from a dream my sister had about Black women’s hair textures. And so the fact that we were able to do this digitally, and I had all this time during quarantine to think about it, I think I had more of an unfiltered process, in a way, to look at my idea more conceptually than I usually do. I had time. I just spent a month during quarantine looking at fabrics and what I was going to do with the brand. How I was going to pivot. This time really gave me a different creative process, and what I love about the outcome is that it’s a departure from what I normally would have done, but it keeps a lot of my DNA.”
RF: “I’ve just been processing Black America and what it feels like right now. It feels a bit daunting. I’m super pro-Black, and everyone who knows me knows that. I wanted to do something that spoke on the tone of Black luxury, Black excellence, and Black opulence. I wanted to make sure the pieces look like what you’d expect to see from a top European brand, but I wanted you to feel something different. There’s a rawness and a realness I think comes from our life experiences. We have to work so hard to keep our heads up. I wanted to put a line together that did some of that work and really made sure we were cast in a proper light where we look like kings and queens and where we look like we belong in that luxury space.”
How they’re taking care of themselves during an unprecedented year of chaos and conflict:
KL: “For me, self-care means a variety of things from sometimes disconnecting from my phone and media. The news is really taxing on me emotionally. I take it very personally, so sometimes I have to turn my phone off. I go for walks around the block and I have a balcony, so I’ll just go there and pray. I also love a good nap, and I love to laugh. I’ve been looking for things that make me laugh and bring me joy. I’m a happy-go-lucky person, and I’m all about positivity. That’s what I want to put out in the world, even with my designs. I want to make women feel beautiful, and in order to create, I have to be in that space. So I’m constantly working on that energy for myself because I get sad and angry thinking about George Floyd and the fact he had to lose his life, along with others. I do believe we’re on the brink of a change. We’ve been saying this shit for years, but now people are actually seeing it, hearing it, retaining the information, and believing us. Everyone is coming together to make a change and fight for this.”
KG: “I’m horrible at self-care, and I’m in my head a lot—I think a lot of creatives are. I battled with a lot of depression for years and finally did something about it about four years ago in getting a therapist. During this quarantine, I kept my appointments on the phone, and that’s great self-care for me always. Work and personal life are intertwined for me—my sister and I run the business together. So it takes a lot for me to disconnect from work. I started giving myself one specific day off on Saturday where I don’t talk about the brand and I don’t think about it. I’m still working on having a personal social life that’s separate from the brand, but I love what I do so much. It’s so much fun that it doesn’t often stress me, but right now, it feels like there’s not enough time to do anything. I’m still working on getting a balance.”
RF: “My work-life balance is the worst. I never took breaks because I was never in a spot where I could just take a break and chill. I took my first vacation three weeks ago—me and my brother went to Cabo for a few days, and it was a ton of fun. I also have a big team, and having them makes it easier for me to do what I do. I lean on my brother a lot, and my assistant has been handling a lot of this shit because I’m doing too much stuff. I have an operations manager that makes sure things are lining up. Being able to stay calm and level through all of this and being able to lean on people has been great. Maintaining an attitude of gratitude is something I spoke about this week on Instagram Live—finding little things to be thankful for and planting little seeds of gratitude so that when tumultuous times come up, I have something to lean on, a little joy reserve.”
What they want all of us to take away from their collections:
KL: “I hope people take away that progress will be made on an individual level and on a grander scale. The colors I have for this collection are like a gradient and they tell a story. That gradient represents progress. No matter where you are in the line of progress, there is a next step. You’ll be taking it at your own pace, but there’s something to look forward to. It’s about movement—moving on, moving forward. And, of course, girl power!”
KG: “I hope people take away from my collection how beautiful Black women are. This collection is an ode to Black women and we are paying specific homage to Black women. I really want people of all different backgrounds, races, and creeds to feel that. I don’t want our fashion—and I’m saying this specifically about Black designers and designers of color—and our collections to be marketed as if they’re just for one set of people. I’m hoping during this time now that we have a spotlight that it’s not just a trend to support Black designers. Look at what it is that we do, look at us on the runway and realize we have talent, creativity, and a voice. We are brands worth supporting and putting money behind. We are brands worth loving and we should be taken seriously. We should have a place in fashion outside of us being designers of color in this moment.”
RF: “The concept of Black excellence. Black luxury. I’m happy to be in the company of these amazing Black women who are legit designers. I’ve seen what they do, and they do amazing work. It’s time to change the narrative, and we’ve already been able to shift it on so many things. We had a Black president, so we know we can exist in that space. We’ve had Black CEOs, so we know we belong there. We’ve had Black doctors and Black Oscar winners. But how many times do you see Black brands in the luxury space? Not Black designers who are designing for a European house, but being a luxury house ourselves. I think this is a spectacular moment. A lot of shit has been going on that hasn’t been good, but there’s balance. With all the bad, there’s an opportunity for good. We’re having this moment during New York Fashion Week as independent Black designers who can really show out and do our thing. We got this, and when we say ‘Black excellence,’ we ain’t playing around. It’s real.”
Top photo: Ethan James Green for Vogue magazine; Courtesy of Instagram/@harlemsfashionrow
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