Black Fashion History: Stephen Burrows

tumblr_lx34gpZ8Xf1r0c4sjo1_500Friends with Warhol, dressing Cher, partying at Studio 54: Stephen Burrows born in Newark, New Jersey on May 15, 1943; is an American fashion designer based in New York City and was the designer for the drug-laced disco days—and one of the first African-American names in the industry. Known for his signature “lettuce hems” and sexy, flowing chiffons, Burrows notably exaggerated stitching instead of hiding it and often used bright colors like red for the thread.

Ginia Bellefante of the New York Times summed up the sexiness of the label by saying, “The most distinctive element of Mr. Burrows’s clothes is that they looked as if they left the house around midnight to wind up the next afternoon a crumpled heap on some bedroom floor at an address the wearer was probably not all that familiar with 24 hours earlier.” After his clothes sold successfully at O, a NYC gallery-boutique located across from Max’s Kansas City, Henri Bendel created an atelier in the basement of its store called Stephen Burrows’ World. But in 1982, Bendel was sold, and Burrows’s fame and fortune went with it. In 2002, after twenty years of obscurity, he made one of the biggest comebacks in fashion history with a revamped Bendel boutique and, later, Fashion Week shows. Soon after, he also debuted a watered-down version of his line on the Home Shopping Network.

In May 2006 the CFDA honored Burrows with “The Board of Directors Special Tribute;” adding the designer to the ranks of such previous luminaries as Tom Ford and Alexander McQueen. Around the same time, Burrows was invited by the Chambre Syndicale de la Mode to return to Paris to present his Spring/Summer 2007 Collection in the Carousel de Louvre. “BURROWS IN PARIS” was presented to resounding applause as part of French Fashion Week. Fashion critic Suzy Menkes of “The International Herald Tribune” praised Burrows as “the Master of matte jersey and colour combinations!” In addition to “Stephen Burrows World”, Burrows expanded his company to include a number of labels drawn from various points of inspiration. “S by Burrows” was created for a venture with Home Shopping Europe (HSN) in Munich, Germany, while “Everyday Girl” was inspired by Anna Cleveland, daughter to muse and model Pat Cleveland, and “SB73,” a cut and sew knit line that was developed based on Burrows’ hallmark, color-blocked creations of the seventies.

Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced looks at the period spanning the 1970s when Stephen Burrows’s meteoric rise to fame made him not only the first African-American designer to gain international stature, but a celebrated fashion innovator whose work helped define the look of a generation. With vibrant colors, metallic fabrics, and slinky silhouettes that clung to the body, Burrows’s danceable designs generated a vibrant look that was of a piece with the glamorous, liberated nightlife of the era. Through photographs, drawings, and original garments, the exhibition will trace Burrows’s evolution from creating eclectic looks for his friends in the 1960s to his work with the chic 57th Street retailer Henri Bendel to the floor of Studio 54, as he dressed such 70s style icons as Cher, Liza Minnelli, and Diana Ross.

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