Black Influential Designers
by Alexandra Phanor-Faury
In celebration of both Black History Month and New York Fashion Week, Essence.com is paying homage to the great designers of the past, present and future whose unique perspective has helped shaped the fashion landscape.
Seamstress Elizabeth Keckley used fashion to buy her freedom from slavery. Keckley’s fine design skills won her a number of wealthy clients who loaned her money to secure her and her son’s freedom. Once free, she moved to Washington, D.C. That’s where Keckley would carve out a reputation for designing the most elegant dresses. This led to her getting introduced to First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and subsequently designing all of the First Lady’s dresses. Kelly became head of the Department of Sewing and Domestic Science Arts at Wilberforce University in 1892. You can find her influential designs today at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum and Kent State’s University Costume Department Museum.