Go ahead and Google: Ophelia DeVore. Ophelia started out as a model, but then went on to own a modeling agency. She was a lighter skinned woman with an ambiguous gaze. When she signed with an agency, she didn’t tell them she was black. She thought they knew until she heard the agency tell someone she hadn’t taken black models. And she said, Umm … don’t you?
Taniqua Russ is a content creator and host of History of black fashion, a podcast that focuses on the contributions of blacks to the fashion industry through the periods.
I have been interested in fashion for as long as I can remember. I studied journalism and fashion, merchandising and design as a minor. I learned a lot about fashion and costume history, but not a lot about the African Americans or Africans in the diaspora who contributed to fashion.
When I moved to New York for my graduate studies, I was working as a sampling assistant. I would ask people questions about their favorite black designers or brands, and no one could name anyone, so I decided to start doing my own research. I was like, I’m going to do something that will share this information, tell people stories, and give someone a place to look if they’re interested in learning more about the history of black fashion.
I get DMs on potential topics, or it’s triggered by my own personal interests and what I’m reading at the time. Sometimes while searching I come across a line in a vintage Jet, maybe the name of a designer or stylist, and I’ll try to search for that person and find nothing but this line. And I’m like, there’s a whole story about fashion and design related to this person, and that’s been lost in a way. While they were alive, their work was not sufficiently documented and no one has dug deep to research this information since.
One of my favorite episodes to date was the one with This, The Costume Designer Living alone, A different world, and Sister sister. It was interesting for people who might not be interested in fashion history, but love and relate to these shows and are really excited to learn where the idea for Whitleys costumes came from. . It was a complete fangirl moment for me in there. I also loved the episode I did with Cinque Brathwaite, the son of one of Grandassa’s original models. He spoke about the movement his parents created, as well as the Grandassa models and their contribution to black fashion.
I don’t consider myself to be a fashion historian, just because the idea behind that word is that you went to school and got a degree, or you’re working in museum studies or something like that. You can just call me an enthusiast.
Go ahead and Google: Jay Jaxon. Until recently he was known as a black designer without much additional information related to him. A woman by the name of Rachel Fenderson made it the subject of her master’s thesis and learned that there are things he did that weren’t even credited to him, which made a dent in the history. If she hadn’t put this together, her job would have been lost. His work spanned decades.
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