Black Fashion Designers at FIT

black fashion designers
Scott Barrie dress, ca. 1973, in MFIT’s exhibition Black Fashion Designers. Image: Museum at FIT.

The Museum at FIT’s current exhibition, Black Fashion Designers, showcases the often-overlooked work of more than 60 designers of African descent. (The show runs to May 16th, 2017). Monday’s symposium is sold out, but you can watch a livestream here.

1970s Willi Smith jumpsuit pattern - Butterick 6680
Butterick 6680 by Willi Smith (ca. 1979) Image: PatternVault shop.

Many of the designers featured in the FIT exhibit also licensed sewing patterns. Here are some highlights of patterns by Black fashion designers, from the 1970s to now.

Sportswear designer Willi Smith (1948-1987) signed with Butterick’s Young Designer line in the 1970s; in the ’80s, he moved to McCall’s with his label Williwear. According to the exhibition notes, Smith branched into menswear in 1982, but this pattern is almost a decade earlier:

1970s Willi Smith menswear pattern Butterick 3254
Butterick 3254 by Willi Smith (1973) Image: Vintage Pattern Wiki.

Stephen Burrows (b. 1943) licensed designs with McCall’s Carefree line in the mid-1970s. This pattern combines two of his signature elements, colour blocking and lettuce hems:

Stephen Burrows pattern for a swan top or tie-bodice top with pants - McCall's 4091
McCall’s 4091 by Stephen Burrows (1974) Image: Etsy.

Scott Barrie (1946-1993) began his career at Vogue Patterns, so his introduction to home sewers was also a welcome back. Chris von Wangenheim photographed Barrie with two models for a feature highlighting his work with matte jersey. The patterns are Vogue 1976 (on Gia Carangi) and Vogue 1994:

Scott Barrie photographed by Chris von Wangenheim (with Gia Carangi, left) in Vogue Patterns magazine, 1978
Scott Barrie in Vogue Patterns, September/October 1978. Photo: Chris von Wangenheim.

Best known for his formal wear, British designer Bruce Oldfield (b. 1950) licensed his work with Style Patterns in the mid-1980s. (See my earlier post here). This dolman-sleeved dress could be made in cocktail or evening length:

1980s Bruce Oldfield dress pattern Style 4494
Style 4494 by Bruce Oldfield (1985) Image: Etsy.

Patrick Kelly (1954-1990) first appeared on the pattern scene in the late 1980s with this dramatic peplum suit. (Read my Patrick Kelly post here, or download the free one-seam coat pattern.)

1980s Patrick Kelly peplum suit pattern Vogue 2077
Vogue 2077 by Patrick Kelly (1988) Image: PatternVault shop.

Gordon Henderson (b. 1957) was among the first designers in the ’90s Vogue Attitudes line. (According to a 1990 profile, his mother—a psychologist and single parent—used Vogue patterns to economize.) This 1990 design shows his interest in colour and silhouette:

1990s Gordon Henderson jacket, skirt and top pattern - Vogue 2566
Vogue 2566 by Gordon Henderson (1990) Image: Etsy.

Also in the Vogue Attitudes line, patterns by Byron Lars (b. 1965) remain popular today. (See my earlier post.) This shirt dress and leggings ensemble was photographed on the street in New York City:

1990s Byron Lars dress and leggings pattern Vogue 1529
Vogue 1529 by Byron Lars (1995) Image: Etsy.

Tracy Reese (b. 1964) has licensed her main label with Vogue Patterns since 2009; McCall’s added bridge line Plenty by Tracy Reese in 2012. Vogue’s most recent offering, Vogue 1512, is a dress from Reese’s Fall 2015 collection.

Plenty by Tracy Reese shirt dress pattern M6506
McCall’s 6506 from Plenty by Tracy Reese (2012) Image: PatternVault shop.
Tracy Reese FW 2015 dress pattern Vogue 1512
Vogue 1512 by Tracy Reese (2016) Image: eBay.
Fall 2015 collection. Image: Vogue Runway.
Tracy Reese, Fall 2015 collection. Image: Vogue Runway.

For more on the Black Fashion Designers exhibit, see the museum notes and Alexandra Jacobs’ article in The New York Times.

Bruce Oldfield: Style Patterns

Malice in the Palace: Princess Diana wears Bruce Oldfield on the cover of People weekly, July 1985
Princess Diana on the cover of People, July 1985. Portrait: Snowdon. Image: People.

With Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Diana opening in North American theatres this weekend, this post is devoted to a designer associated with the Princess of Wales: Bruce Oldfield. The 1985 Lord Snowdon portrait seen on the People cover above shows a Bruce Oldfield velvet dress that the princess also wore to the premiere of Les Misérables. Oldfield began designing for Princess Di in 1980, and for over a decade she was president of Barnardo’s, the children’s charity with which Oldfield has had a life-long relationship.

Some like it haute! Bruce Oldfield campaign photographed by Michael Roberts, 1986
Bruce Oldfield campaign, 1986. Photos: Michael Roberts. Image: Bruce Oldfield.

In the mid- to late 1980s, Bruce Oldfield sewing patterns were released by Style Patterns. (The British pattern company seems to have produced designer patterns only between 1985 and 1988, so high Eighties style is guaranteed.) Here’s a selection of Bruce Oldfield patterns.

This wrap dress or blouse-and-skirt ensemble is gathered into a shoulder yoke for the mid-1980s strong-shouldered silhouette:

1980s Bruce Oldfield pattern - Style 4612
Style 4612 by Bruce Oldfield (1985) Image: eBay.

Hemline slits add interest to this panelled, double-breasted suit:

1980s Bruce Oldfield suit pattern - Style 1384
Style 1384 by Bruce Oldfield (1988)

In this dress, dolman sleeves are cut into curved side panels, shaped with shoulder pleats for draped volume. Because Style Patterns changed its envelope design in the mid-1980s, this pattern may be found in two alternate versions:

1980s Bruce Oldfield dress pattern - Style 4494
Style 4494 by Bruce Oldfield (1986). Image: Etsy.
1980s Bruce Oldfield caftan-style dress pattern - Style 4494
Style 4494 by Bruce Oldfield (1986)

Cindy Crawford models this dress with straight skirt and blouson bodice:

1980s Bruce Oldfield dress pattern feat. Cindy Crawford - Style 1104
Style 1104 by Bruce Oldfield (1987)

In this dramatic mock wrap dress with dolman sleeves, the belt passes through openings in the side panels:

1980s Bruce Oldfield dress pattern - Style 1383 (1988)
Style 1383 by Bruce Oldfield (1988)

Bruce Oldfield is best known for his bridal and evening wear. This wedding or evening dress has a ruched bodice, raised front hemline, and optional puffed sleeves:

1980s Bruce Oldfield evening or wedding dress pattern - Style 1290
Style 1290 by Bruce Oldfield (1988) Image: Etsy.

To continue the Eighties flashback, check out this Bruce Oldfield blog post with archival runway photos and video.