Pratt Puts Black Designers in the Spotlight-------
“It actually started with my godmother,” explained Pratt Institute fashion professor and curator Adrienne Jones. “She has been collecting information on black designers—she’s 85 now—forever. And one day I was talking to her and I said, ‘You know what? The information is not out there—and it needs to be out there.’”
Five years later, Jones is presenting Black Dress: Ten Contemporary Fashion Designers, an exhibition that opens at Pratt Manhattan Gallery this Friday and showcases the works of contemporary black designers. Jones has brought together a diverse range of today’s African-American talent—artists such as menswear fur pioneer Jeffrey Banks, ready-to-wear designer Tracy Reese, and the iconic Stephen Burrows, as well as newer designers including Michael Jerome Francis, known for his hyper eco-conscious designs, Queens-based body-con aficionado LaQuan Smith, and former Project Runway star Rodney Epperson (above). Photographer and mixed-media artist Carrie Mae Weems has also contributed an original film for the project.
“We wanted to show the huge span [of talent] that we have,” related Jones. “I talk to my undergraduates and say, ‘Who’s your favorite designer?’ And they name the designer or designers that they like. And whether [the students] are black or white, they never know any black designers. So this was an opportunity for me to not only teach them, but [all the others] who don’t know that this collection of people, this collection of talent, exists.”
“This is an honor,” said Smith, in front of his three chosen designs in the gallery (set up to mimic a series of Madison Avenue-esque storefront windows). “If anything, it’s a celebration for us as African-American designers to be able to show our work in such a prestigious spotlight with Pratt, alongside legends like Stephen Burrows, and to be able to say, ‘This is our message.’”
Black Dress: Ten Contemporary Fashion Designers will be on view from February 7 to April 26. Jones hopes to take it nationwide, as well as translate the research into a Black Dress book in the future.