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Innovative black designers have critically influenced fashion – WWD

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Fashion changes over time, as do the names we associate with it.

But key contributions from black visionaries who have been vital to the industry have often gone without mention – or attribution.

Stephen Burrows and Lester Hayatt are two such visionaries.

If you danced on the nightclub in the 1970s, slipping into style could have included one of Burrows’ many looks. “I’ve always played against the rules,” Burrows told WWD. His penchant for wrapping the body in easy knits has become the new uniform for a modern young consumer, whose work and recreational lifestyle have mingled. “My inspiration came from my love of dance, art and my friends.”

These friends were often ready to go out together in colorful Burrows looks. “We went out in groups dressed in my creations. It made it easy for people to see what I was doing and it worked for me. Seeing us all under the same eyes at the same time had a big impact back then, ”he said. It is a marketing advantage that cannot be bought today.

Burrows, originally from Newark, NJ, studied design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. After graduating he worked in the Garment District for a year before going on his own in 1968. A year later his first line of loose pants, shirts and tunics were sold exclusively at Jimmy’s “O” store. Valkus in New York City. Burrows’ distinct mix of fabrics and colors was a refreshing change from the norm of the day and gave it noticeable visibility within the fashion community.

Fashion designer Stephen Burrows wearing a colorful t-shirt while showing off his Spring / Summer 1971 collection in New York

Designer Stephen Burrows wears his signature t-shirt during a preview of his Spring 1971 collection in New York. Photo by Nick Machalaba
Fairchild Archives / Penske Media

When a friend Joel Schumacher, a then promising director who also worked with Halston, introduced Burrows to Geraldine Stutz, then president of Henri Bendel, in 1970, everything changed for Burrows. He won the first of three Coty Awards, opened the “Stephen Burrows World” boutique at Bendel’s, and three years later debuted on loungewear brand Stevie’s by Stephen Burrows for Bendel’s.

Burrows wanted fashion to be easy to wear, not just ready-to-wear. He believed that people should be comfortable in clothes, that they should be able to slip easily in or out of an outfit, and he designed his designs accordingly. Burrows was known for his iconic colors, pants with zigzag stitch detailing and inlaid appliqués, and clothing that draped the body without constraining it. Perhaps his most imperceptible contribution, as he explained to WWD in a 1970 article about the beginnings of opening his Bendel store, was that he would use “No buttons or zippers … just snaps and elastic belts. He helped put “fashionable comfort” on the map, long before today’s loungewear era.

Yet Burrows did not consider himself to be an innovator.

“I was doing what I loved. I loved working with fabrics in an unconventional way. I’ve always liked creativity to flow freely. For me, this is what worked, ”he said. “As a designer you should have a space to experiment.”

Fortunately, Bendel gave him that freedom. And in his experimentation, Burrows made the lettuce hem fashionable, which took off in 1972.

“It was a mistake,” he says. “One of the hands in the sample would sew a hem on a matte jersey dress and stretch it. It rippled and when I saw it I liked it and wanted to experience it. But the thick jersey didn’t do what he wanted, so Burrows reached out to Jasco Fabrics, a matte jersey supplier, for something lighter. Then came the evolution: he used the new, lighter matte chiffon jersey to complete the lettuce-edged hem. The experience paid off, making her fluid cuts delicate, feminine and light.

A model with a printed look from Stephen Burrows' Fall / Winter 1971 Ready-to-Wear show in New York

Pat Cleveland poses in a brightly colored dress from Stephen Burrows’ Fall 1971 collection at Henri Bendel’s in New York. Photo by Harry Morrison
Fairchild Archives / Penske Media

In 1973, this philosophy would take center stage at the now infamous fashion ‘Battle of Versailles’, a name coined by former WWD editor John B. Fairchild, for the event that set fashion. American – and Stephen Burrows – on the international scene. While Paris had control of couture, the American fashion industry had already discovered a new consumer: one whose day or night demanded a wardrobe that was fluid enough for their new, modern and unapologetic lifestyle. And Burrows was there to equip them.

For her debut in Stevie’s loungewear in 1973, Burrows’ fabric of choice was French Terry in silhouettes similar to her RTW, which gave her retail new life. Loungewear was moving from the bedroom to the street, a recurring fact in today’s market. The category now called athleisure was introduced to the fashion conversation.

Burrows’ ability to work in all categories led to working with Lacoste for casual wear and athletic wear, and sweaters for Krizia by Mariuccia Mandelli in the 1970s. He also teamed up with artist friends. Bobby Breslau and Cecilia Silvera for handbags and jewelry, and licensed his name to products ranging from fur to perfume. His collections were the first from a black designer to be sold at home and abroad.

Today Stephen Burrows is a name steeped in the fashion canon, although he doesn’t think he would have the same opportunities if he were a young designer today.

Recalling a time when fashion allowed more experimentation and the designer’s practice could evolve, he said: “It’s not so much about what the designer wants to explore, but what the retailer tells them will be at. fashionable and will work on the sales floor. . At the time, we weren’t going to the buyer. They came to us. This change, he said, is a loss for the consumer as it often means there is not enough variety in design, which leads to the lack of a diverse product selection in the market today. hui.

For his time, Burrows captured a sensibility in clothing that evolved the ease of dressing. And while her career notes often focus on the 1970s, her fashion contributions extend far beyond that moment.

While Burrows entered fashion through fluid separations and rtw between the sexes, Hayatt, another visionary, found her entry into motherhood before switching to contemporary fashion.

Designer Lester Hayatt and model Romney Russo at Lester Hayatt for Spring 1980.

Model Romney Russo and designer Lester Hayatt in Lester Hayatt’s “fashion camouflage” for spring 1980. Photo by Michel Maurou
WWD

Hayatt, originally from Panama, came to New York at 17 to study fashion at Parson’s School of Design. After graduating, he went to work with designer Giorgio Sant’Angelo. In less than a year, he became the sole designer of Lady Madonna maternity shops in 1974. Although his training was not in this specialized category, Hayatt approached maternity fashion with the same passion he had for rtw. It evolved the category, failing in the retail sector for lack of design, into a modern, chic style that rivaled non-motherly looks – moving the category onto the fashion market’s week calendar.

Marie Johnson Colbert, former merchant and marketing partner of Lester Hayatt Inc., said he was fueling “maternity fashion” and her collections were so sought after, Caron Carter, President Jimmy Carter’s daughter-in-law, asked her to conceive all of her maternity. wardrobe.

Lady Madonna Maternity has become a benchmark for celebrities and the new modern mom. By the time Hayatt left the company in 1979 to go out on his own, WWD had reported sales of $ 4 million and the licensee’s estimated volume of $ 11 million.

In the 1980s, the Baby Boomer brought together the largest group of college graduates now working in a variety of professional environments. They were looking for “different weekend clothes,” said Colbert, who partnered with Hayatt from 1980 to 1982, the company’s formative years.

“Lester Hayatt Inc. as a brand had a formula. The focus on the product, the retailer and the consumer has contributed to [Hayatt] brand in Main Street storefronts, commercial acknowledgments and daily periodicals marketed locally and around the world, ”she said. He saw what was missing in the wardrobe: affordable, modern and versatile clothes. When Hayatt chose to put camouflage at the center of fashion, it was the “novelty” the market needed, Colbert said.

WWD first reported on Hayatt’s “contemporary urban” style, noting the camouflage trend in November 1979. “Fashionable camouflage” began with Hayatt.

“The timing gave a boost to this used army – but not [then] used in fashion – printed textile with real commercialization that made it a classic, ”said Colbert. The cover-up phenomenon led to department store accounts with Bonwit Teller and Macy’s Herald Square, which established a Lester Hayatt boutique in its Young Collector department in 1981. The brand also sold in the UK and Japan in as a new brand of contemporary designers. “We took advantage of this momentum to build a brand perceived as innovative and trendy, focused on an emerging market. The brand had the right product, great relationships with buyers, and a price that allowed for sales volume. “

A model poses in Lester Hayatt’s summer 1981 sportswear collection. Photo by Tony Palmieri
WWD

The [Hayatt] The brand also evolved sporty silhouettes like the riding jodhpur for streetwear in dull khaki and olive cotton, reinvented the basic color-block rayon sweatshirt, and featured what WWD called a “hot ticket. “For summer 1982 – the multifunctional” obi “wrapped pants. Like the Burrows lettuce-edged hem detail, the obi pants are still produced today.

It goes without saying that fashion is always on the move, striving to respond to current social trends.

In the late 1980s, as the market started to soften, so did retail. Burrows and Hayatt moved away from wholesale. Hayatt opened two stores on New York’s Upper West Side bearing his last name that exclusively sold his collection of trendy sportswear. Burrows designed special orders and small collections for Bendel and Barneys. By the mid-1990s, the two designers had moved away from fashion, although Burrows made a welcome comeback in the early 2000s.

For both designers, the innovations created opportunities to evolve American sportswear and sportswear, pushing the needle of the brand concept of comfort and lifestyle that endures today.



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