University of Fashion Blog

Posts by: Francesca Sterlacci & Noelle Conklin

Francesca Sterlacci & Noelle Conklin

Francesca Sterlacci is the CEO of University of Fashion (UoF) which she founded in 2008 as the first online fashion video library bringing the art and craft of fashion design and business to schools, libraries, organizations and the general public. As owner of her eponymous label for ten years, her collection sold in fine stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Saks, Barneys and Nordstrom. As a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology for 11 years, she became Chair of the Fashion Design Department where she initiated the complete revision of their AAS and BFA degree programs, as well as wrote three certificate programs: Leather Fashion Design, Outerwear and Haute Couture. Francesca has also taught graduate level fashion design at the Academy of Art University San Francisco for six years, both on site and online. Her publishing accomplishments include: Leather Apparel Design, the Historical Dictionary of the Fashion Industry (First and Second Editions), the A-Z of the Fashion Industry, Leather Fashion Design and a 3-volume beginner series on Draping, Pattern Making and Sewing designed to complement the UoF lessons. She has also made literary contributions to both the Encyclopedia of Clothing & Fashion and You Can Do It! The Merit Badge Handbook for Women. Francesca holds an AAS, BA and an MSEd (master’s degree in higher education). ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// Noelle Conklin is a proud member of Generation Z. In addition to her love of writing, history and photography, she is an avid reader of horror novels, especially Steven King. When not managing her Insta account, where she’s into ‘everything aesthetic,’ she enjoys hiking and playing volleyball. Her college plans include writing, the study of the human body and forensic science. Noelle is proud to be blog contributor for University of Fashion.

Celebrating Black History & Fashion

(Photo credit; University of Fashion – Vlisco print – Perelman Museum, Philadelphia)

As Black History month draws to a close, we thought we would end the month by focusing on the historical contributions that African Americans have made to the world of fashion.

Before we do though, let’s take a look at the origin of Black History month. Started as Negro History Week in 1926, it was the brainchild of Harvard-educated historian Carter G. Woodson (known as the “Father of Black History). In 1970, the Black United Students and Black Educators at Kent State University expanded the idea to include the entire month of February, coinciding with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas (leader of the New York & Massachusetts abolitionist movement) Since 1976, every U.S. president has designated February as Black History Month in observance of African Americans; how they fought and continue to fight for freedom through hard work and activism.

 

African Prints

(Photo credit – University of Fashion- Vlisco African dashiki print Perelman Museum, Philadelphia)

When most of us think of African dress, the first thing that comes to mind is the dashiki, a loose-fitting garment made of a colorful printed cotton. But, do you know the origin of those prints? African Prints are wax prints that are industrialized versions of hand-drawn, hand-blocked and hand-dyed batik patterns that date to 8th century China and India. It wasn’t until later in the 13th century that islanders on Java refined the technique. The two factories that originally created these prints, ABC (an English wax company that moved to Ghana), and Vlisco, (located in the Netherlands), eventually found a market for them in West Africa around 1867. Since then, the prints caught on and have been made popular by African vendors who assign meaning and value to them. The powerful businesswomen who sell these prints in Africa are nicknamed “Mama Benz” after the fancy cars they buy with their earnings.

In the U.S., African prints are worn as a symbol of pride and they continue in popularity among designers on the global stage.

(Photo credit: University of Fashion – Vlisco print at Perelman Museum, Philadelphia)

In fact, the Vlisco bull’s-eye pattern below was used in Burberry’s spring/summer 2012 collection. And Studio 189, a Ghana/U.S.-based sustainable fashion line debuted their print collection at NYFW 2019.

(Photo credit: University of Fashion- Vlisco print designed by Piet Snel 1936)

Studio 189 New York Fashion Week 2019 (Photo credit: okayafrica.com)

 

African Head Wraps

Another major contribution of African dress is the head wrap, head tie or head scarf, worn either for day-to-day activities or for ceremonial/religious purposes. These headdresses go by various names depending upon which part of Africa. For example the gele id from West Africa while the doek and the duku  are worn in Southern Africa.

Check out this cool YouTube video to learn how to tie 10 different variations of head wraps.

Head Wrap (Photo credit: Oladimeji Odunsi)

 

African Dress Symbolism

African clothing patterns often depict religious beliefs and political commentary. The colors are also of particular significance, as they interpret the meaning of the pattern, with red symbolizing death, green meaning fertility, white expressing purity and blue signifying love. In West Africa it’s the agbada and in East Africa, the kanzu is the traditional dress worn by men.

Men’s agabada (Photo credit: Fikayo Aderoju)

For women, it’s the gomesi and the kanga (a colorful piece of printed cotton fabric with a border that is wrapped around the body).

Women’s gomesi (Photo credit: mywedding.co.ug)

 

African American Design Pioneers

Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes was the first African American fashion and costume designer as well as the first black designer to open her own shop in 1948, located on Broadway in New York City. Her designs were worn by such famous entertainers as Dorothy Dandridge, Josephine Baker, Marian Anderson, Ella Fitzgerald, Mae West, Ruby Dee, Eartha Kitt and Sarah Vaughan, among others.

Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes (Photo credit: blackthen.com)

Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes was born on June 28, 1905 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. She studied her grandmother’s work as a seamstress and also worked in her uncle’s tailoring shop. She began work as a stock girl at a high-end boutique around 1920 and worked her way up to become the boutique’s first black salesclerk and tailor. In 1948, at the age of forty-seven, Valdes opened her boutique in Manhattan on Broadway and West 158th Street with her sister, Mary Barbour, who worked as her assistant. She called her store, Chez Zelda. Valdes’s boutique soon attracted numerous celebrities and society women.  In 1949 Valdes was elected president of the New York Chapter of the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers (NAFAD), an organization of black designers that was founded by educator and political activist Mary McLeod Bethune. In the early 1950s, Life Magazine described Valdez as the “Black Marilyn Monroe.” In 1958 Playboy Magazine founder Hugh Hefner hired Valdes to design the first Playboy Bunny costume, however the original design had taller ears and the ensemble lacked the trademark bow tie, collar and cuffs.

In 1976, designer Willi Smith launched his company, WilliWear. Smith is considered one of the most successful African American designers in the fashion industry, grossing over $25 million in sales by 1986. To commemorate his work, New York’s Cooper Hewitt Museum is planning a retrospective of his work from March through October 2020 entitled, Willi Smith: Street Couture.

Willi Smith and his model sister Toukie Smith (Photo credit: Cooper Hewitt)

The first black female designer to be recognized by the contemporary fashion industry was Tracy Reese, who founded her eponymous brand in 1998. Based in Detroit, Reese recently announced the launch of a new ethically-diverse label, Hope for Flowers, building on her already diverse and size-inclusive platform.

Tracy Reese (Photo credit: Dimitrios Kambouris)

Although we are celebrating African American designers here, we thought that this designer deserved mention. Meet Ozwald Boateng. Born in London to Ghanaian parents, Boateng was the first tailor to present a collection during Paris Fashion Week. In 1994, he opened his retail establishment just off Savile Row and was the youngest and first black tailor ever to do so. In 2014, Harvard University presented Boateng with the prestigious Veritas Award for his achievements and his commitment to global socio-economic development.

Ozwald Boateng (Photo credit: ozwaldboateng.com)

 

22 Black Fashion Designers You Should Be Following

(Click links to see their work)

Andrea Iyamah

Anifa Mvuemba of Hanifa

Aurora James of Brother Vellies

Christopher John Rogers

Cushnie

Dapper Dan

Datari Austin London

Demestik by Reuben Reuel

Dumebi Iyamah of Andrea Iyamah

Fe Noel

Hideoki Bespoke

Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss

Kyemah Mcentyre

Laquan Smith

Miguel Wilson Collection

Rihanna’s Fenty Empire

Romeo Hunte

Sean John

Studio 189

Telfar Clemens of Telfar

Tia Adeola of Slashed by Tia

Virgil Abloh

 

On the Subject of Natural Hair

There has been a lot of press surrounding natural hair in the past year. Read this Forbes article about the natural hair-care movement and how Hollywood A-lister Gabrielle Union and a high school wrestler, Andrew Johnson, have been hair-shamed. Here’s another article entitled, Black Hair Defined that you’ll find interesting.

Did you know that Colorado, Washington and Minnesota—have either introduced or are advancing bills that ban hair discrimination in the workplace? It’s known as the Crown Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” The act is already law in California, New York, New Jersey, Cincinnati and Montgomery County, Maryland.

You’ll also want to check out the award-winning Oscar animated film called Hair Love or get the book.

To learn more….

For more info on African American history, be sure to download and listen to The New York Times podcast entitled, The 1619 Project or read it here.

Share your thoughts with us about Black History month and how you celebrated