Stephen Burrows, one of the most influential black designers in American history, was joined by guest and legends of the fashion world at JB b.o.r.n. Vintage Fashion Show Room in Harlem.
The pioneer designer spent the evening talking about his career that spans decades and his vision for the future. The event was held on May 29th in support of a Kickstart campaign for his new collection.
So who is Stephen Burrows? He is the first African-American designer to become a household name and has dressed the likes of Michelle Obama, Diana Ross, Cher, Bette Midler, Grace Jones and Farrah Fawcett just to name a few. In 1973, he helped America win, what is now considered fashions, Battle of Versailles in France. Burrows along with Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Halston, and Anne Klein showcased their work and brought the house down. Versailles 73, a feature-length documentary, was inspired by the event that helped restore the famed Versailles palace. A three time winner of the Coty Award (considered to be the Oscars of fashion), Burrows received the Council of American Fashion Critic Award and various other accolades. As the creator of color block and lettuce-edge hems, he shows proof that his creations are timeless.
Throughout the evening, the fashion icon was surround by a guest list of supporters, friends and fashion legends that he’s worked with over the years. Industry legends included Norma Jean Darden, a model whose photos have have appeared in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Mademoiselle, Seventeen, Glamour, Ladies Home Journal, Essence Magazine, Esquire, The New York Times.
Alva Chinn, a former Halston Supermodel of the 1980s and a favorite of Oscar de la Renta and Veronica Jones, fashion retail entrepreneur, who opened Veronica Jones Showroom selling to Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Nordstroms and high end boutiques across the country.
Founder and CEO of JB b.o.r.n Jonathan Bodrick and JJ Langan led a Q & A that covered how he got started and what he has planned. Check out the Q&A below.
Jonathan Bodrick and JJ Langa: When people refer to you as an icon or a legend, do you feel that you are?
Stephen Burrows: No….no. I was just doing something that I like to do and making money at it. Everyone use to come to my house to try on my clothes and I would let them go out in them. We’d go out together arriving at the same time in my clothes at places like the Palladium. I had to make more of them because they all kept them.
Jonathan Bodrick: What is fashion to you?
Stephen Burrows: Fashion is how you put yourself together. Which style you have and it’s not something you have that’s common to everyone it’s unique about you.
JJ Langa: You’ve dressed some high profile women.
Stephen Burrows: Yes. Recently Michelle Obama has worn one of my pieces twice. I was shocked even more (guest laugh).
Jonathan Bodrick: Why did you decide to do Kickstart campaign?
Stephen Burrows: You’re always looking for funding in this business we’re in. Finding it is difficult and this is a new way to find venture capital, stay independent and continue to keep own my name which is very important. My last collection was in 2012. I lost my business partner who was very essential to my business and it took me awhile to get over it. I’m now over it and I’m trying to start again.
JJ Langa: Can you give us a description of your goal and vision for your next collection Stephen Burrows Now?
Stephen Burrows: Modern clothes…easy to wear and comfortable. A nice touch, colorful and sexy. The aesthetic doesn’t change just the different fabrics that come along. But I still love knits. I love anything that stretches like our body. I was always asking, can you make this stretch? And now today everything is stretchy. Even denim is stretch which is great because it moves like the body. That’s why I like fabrics that are easy to touch. A lot of today’s fabrics are now easy to touch.
Photographer Udo Salters Photography.rick and JJ Langa: Do you think that race plays a part in whether a designer gets backed?
Stephen Burrows: It didn’t happen to me. I didn’t have any problems. Henri Bendel was great. I went to see the president and she gave me a boutique that day. She tried on some of my things and spun around in that famous mirror of hers and said, I’ll give you a boutique. When can you start? I felt very lucky to have met the right people at the right time. That has a lot to do with it.
Jonathan Bodrick and JJ Langa: Talk more about the right place at the right time?
Stephen Burrows: We use to spend time in Fire Island. It was like going to Wonderland. We went there every weekend. Especially in the Pines and the Cherry Grove. The Pines was like the most elitist part of the island. Joel Schumacher, the director of Batman, was display director at Bendel. He also worked for Vogue Magazine as at-large editor. He came up to me on Fire Island and said I’m from Vogue. We like your style. We’d like to take pictures of your clothes. The girl who became my model that day was Naomi Sims. She had blue violet eyelashes to die for.
Photo Credit: Udo Salters Photography