The Pratt Manhattan Gallery is a minimalistic and beautiful space that now houses “Black Dress,” an exhibition dedicated to 10 contemporary black fashion designers, which opened Feb. 6. Co-curated by Pratt Institute fashion professor Adrienne Jones and art dealer and exhibition developer Paula Coleman, the exhibition was introduced at the beginning of Black History Month and coincided with New York Fashion Week. The show is a statement that emphasizes these up-and-coming, New York-based designers as representatives of the black community in fashion.
“Black Dress” occurs at a time when, despite their growing success and popularity, black fashion designers—especially designers like Stephen Burrows, Tracy Reese, and Pratt Institute alumnus Jeffrey Banks—remain largely underrepresented in the fashion world.
Jones felt that it had been too long since the black fashion community had come together for an event such as “Black Dress.”
“The black fashion community is small, but we all know each other, whether it’s professionally or personally,” Jones said.
She conceived of a show that displayed these designers’ individual accomplishments.
“Last year was Stephen Burrows’ show at the Museum of the City of New York, so everybody came out for that,” she said. “But before that it had been ten years, so I went to that show telling everybody, ‘Listen, I’m working on this exhibit.’ At that point I didn’t even know how big, how small, what it was going to be, but I just knew, ‘Listen.’”
The exhibition is arranged to depict imitations of Madison Avenue store windows, with each designer’s work showcased behind a window. Lit to properly display each look in its highest grandeur, the room is surrounded by the designs of impending stars such as Omar Salam, Pratt Institute alumna and “Project Runway” contestant Samantha Black, Brooklyn-based designer and “Project Runway” contestant Rodney Epperson, and Queens-based celebrity designer LaQuan Smith. Looking around the space, each window, as well as the room’s center, is a testament to the care, craft, and personality of each artist’s work.
“Over the past couple of years, my aesthetic has become what it is and it doesn’t change,” Black said. “It’s who I am.”
“Black Dress” draws its inspiration from history, culture, and personal style. Every design featured is original, from a pair of killer leather overalls, to a distressed green dress of braided fabric, to a coat that looks like waves have frozen in place around the mannequin’s neck.
“Our clothes tend to have a basic foundation that is very rigorous and disciplined, but then it’s really to get out of the box and do things that are not to be done,” Salam, creator of the House of Sukeina, said.
In creating unprecedented fashion, these designers are working to embody the words of J. Alexander of “America’s Next Top Model” fame. The designer, also known as Miss J, concluded the “Black Dress” press event by declaring that, “Fashion is forever, trend is not.” His eyes were large and serious, and his tone suggested that the statement was not only a way of saying “I have to leave now,” but also a kind of philosophy—one that’s on display at “Black Dress.”