Inspiration & Designing the Look

Black fashion designers have made great strides: not only in their designs, but in creating opportunities for other designers of color. For that reason we wanted to highlight some of the notable names whose ideas and innovations have helped shape the course of fashion.

From avant-garde, to mainstream, designers with inspirations from underground subcultures, to master tailors still at the top of their game and footwear designers behind some of the most creative kicks to date, these are…

The Big 12 of Black Fashion Designers

Ozwald Boateng

Popularly known as the first Black tailor (at age 27) to open a store on Savile Row and former creative director of Givenchy, Ozwald continues to be a force to be reckoned with. Born in Britain and of Ghanian descent, he has carved a niche in the fashion industry by setting a standard in the art of bespoke tailoring. His use of vibrant colors and refined fabrics with a twist of contemporary silhouettes offers a unique menswear luxury brand. He has donned celebrities such as Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and Mick Jagger in his well tailored designs. In 2000, he was awarded ‘Top Menswear Designer’ at the British Fashion Awards; awarded an OBE in 2006 by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for his contributions to the fashion industry, a Lifetime Award at the ARISE Fashion Week – Lagos in 2012 and many more.

Dexter and Byron Peart: WANT Les Essentiels de la Vie

Canadian twins Dexter and Byron have had a lifelong appreciation for fashion and have held positions at high-volume brands like Diesel and Sixty. In 2006, they started WANT Les Essentiels de la Vie out of a desire to see high-end travel accessories made with an appreciation for timeless design. The resulting handsomely crafted leather goods became hugely popular with fashion insiders and stylish jet setters alike, and their goods have been stocked by accessible retailers like J. Crew to higher-end boutiques like Maison Kitsune.

Martine Rose

Menswear designer Martine Rose has made some ground since her days designing T-shirts with a friend under the moniker LMNOP. Today, she’s killing at London Fashion Week and is gaining a following of cool guys interested in her bomber jackets, and mix of sportswear and tailoring. Not to mention, she has also collaborated with the likes of Timberland, CAT and Icon Brand. It’s no wonder Rose is always on the lists of British menswear designers to watch.

Agape Mdumulla: Agi & Sam

Agape Mdumulla is one half of the design duo behind the brand Agi & Sam, and easily one of the British menswear designers you should know. He earned his stripes working for Karl Lagerfeld and Alexander McQueen, the latter being where he eventually met co-designer Sam Cotton. But his foray into fashion wasn’t always so clear. As the story goes, Mdumulla wanted to be a pilot until he was sixteen. Needless to say, it looks like the stars aligned and everything worked out for the best. Since launching their label, he and Cotton have been praised for their snappy tailoring and prints-they even did an entire collection inspired by the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. They’ve only shown collections for a few seasons, but if any of the previous ones are indications of what’s to come we’re in for a treat.

Joe Casely-Hayford

Joe Casely-Hayford could quite easily be the hardest working man in the fashion industry. Since the mid-80s, he’s designed his eponymous men’s and women’s line, which won him the Womenswear British Designer of the Year in 1989 and Innovative Designer of the Year in 1991. And that’s where Casely-Hayford’s resume began growing into a list as thick as War & Peace. He was the first designer to create an exclusive range for Topshop, designed for films, consulted for ballets, and dressed an absurd amount of musicians in his unique but wearable clothing. He’s the bespoke designer of choice for names like Lou Reed, U2, The Clash, Liam Gallagher, and many others. Influencing the look of rock ‘n roll’s most stylish stars is of course going to get you noticed, and Casely-Hayford consistently makes lists of the top designers in creative influencers in London. And it must run in the family. Along with his son Charlie, the two launched Casely-Hayford in 2009, mixing Savile Row tradition with British Anarchy attitude. As Joe passes the torch to Charlie, the family name is definitely safe in the hands of one of London’s need-to-know fashion insiders.

Telfar Clemens: Telfar; Under.T

Born in Queens, Telfar Clemens’ designs toe the line between streetwear and high-fashion with a global perspective. That might’ve been gleaned from a childhood spent in Liberia. His clothing has a transformer-like quality, like the detachable fleece suit in his latest collection. There’s a hint of pragmatism mixed in with a little bit of street-savviness and workwear vibes. Indigo jeans are reinterpreted with two-toned fleece, hoodies look less athletic and more like body armor. While there’s a bit of whimsy, there’s also a cool guy vibe to everything, as Clemens’ upbringing and exposure to various subcultures while moonlighting as a DJ brought him into contact with many different styles: all which provide their own influence on Clemens’ approach to clothing design. He also has his diffusion line, Under.T, which offers re-interpreted basics like sweats and tees.

Edward Wilkerson:

After cutting his teeth at Donna Karen and Calvin Klein, Edward Wilkerson has positioned himself atop multi-million dollar women’s sportswear brand Lafayette 148. Wilkerson’s insane work ethic and persistence is what carried him to the top: while he was in school he literally went block by block in the garment district looking for job opportunities: but it was his personal traveling and discovery throughout Africa where he truly secured his vision. Taking inspiration from his time in Kenya, Morocco and other countries, Wilkerson has stuck to his original philosophy of creating stylish basics while infusing a bit of flair and excitement. Even though he, like Drake, started from the bottom, he advises African American designers who still have to break barriers and prejudice to “start at the top. The bottom is always going to be there.”

Shayne Oliver:

You can thank Shayne Oliver for the current trend of high-fashion with an undeniably street appeal. As early at 2006, Oliver was screen-printing tees with “HOOD” on them. As things progressed, he branched out into different designs and even beyond screen printing. While his HBA Classics line gained popularity due to co-signs from the A$AP Mob and getting placement in cool guy havens like Opening Ceremony, it perfectly encapsulates the current fashion climate, which is learning to embrace the high/low juxtaposition. What sets Oliver’s design philosophy apart from his contemporaries is the deliberate self-awareness he pours into his work, in fact, he prefers the term “hood” over “ghetto” because he feels the latter has connotations of victimization, while the former symbolizes realness. He’s not afraid to take risks, especially with style.

Marc Hare: Mr. Hare

With his rude boy roots and decidedly English demeanor, Marc Hare is one cool dude. His long dreads and artfully unkempt beard contrast well with his rather dapper personal style. The footwear he makes are an equal juxtaposition of gritty edge and high-class sensibilities. He wasn’t always so dressed-up, Hare actually ran Low Pressure, London’s only surf shop, in 1992. A few years later, after consulting for sneaker brands and the likes of Levi’s and Dr. Martens, he got the itch to start a footwear line of his own. Launching his label in 2009, he originally made waves for eye-catching kicks like spectator shoes made out of stingrays and prices as exorbitant as his designs. He’s recently opened his first stand-alone store in London, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Maxwell Osborne:

Cutting his teeth as a designer for Sean John, that’s where Maxwell Osborne met co-designer Dao-Yi Chow. Together, they set out to create high-end clothes with a gritty New York edge through the label Public School, and then established its streetwear-oriented offshoot, Black Apple. The spirit of New York’s downtown bohemian scene and middle-finger-to-the-world delinquency perfectly rings through Osborne and Chow’s designs, and while they’re both two stylish guys in their own right, Osborne’s drapey, dark, aesthetic and trademark dreads make him a sartorial force to be reckoned with. Having just launched a denim line and collaboration with the New York Knicks, expect more great things to come from this guy.

Olivier Rousteing:

When Balmain announced it was appointing Olivier Rousteing as head designer some questioned whether he was right for the job. But, as you know, the move proved to be the right decision and not to mention also lucrative. To this day, celebrities can’t get enough of the brand, and rappers are still wearing the biker jeans like it’s their second skin. The African Frenchman Rousteing earned his stripes at Roberto Cavalli, where he worked for five years, and then designing Balmain’s women’s line. He may have stayed behind the scenes while former designer Christophe Decarnin led Balmain, but those days are long gone. All eyes are on Rousteing now.

Andrew Ramroop:

In 1969, Trinidad-born Andrew Ramroop began a career as a tailor’s apprentice. He had tailored his first suit at seventeen, and his craftsmanship skills brought him success in London, where he had a stint with storied label Huntsman & Sons in the early 1970s.
In 1974, he found a position with Maurice Sedwell: the only shop that would hire a non-white tailor. Ramroop eventually bought the store in 1988, becoming the first person of color to own a shop on Savile Row. In 2008, the Master Tailor founded the Savile Row Academy to train the tailors of tomorrow, and was also handed an OBE honor from the Queen. Ramroop continues to train aspiring tailors at the SRA, while Maurice Sedwell still makes quality suits with him at the helm.