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Harlem's Fashion Row Opens New York Fashion Week With 'Renaissance Forever'

A testament to the enduring power of Black creatives to innovate and push culture forward in the face of oppression.

On Tuesday evening, Harlem’s Fashion Row celebrated the return of New York Fashion Week with a hybrid in-person and virtual presentation, bringing together a crowd that included Jordan Alexander, Anna Wintour, activist and journalist Emil Wilbekin and more uptown, on the very street where Brandice Daniel started it all.

The 14th annual Style Awards honored Zerina Akers as Stylist of the Year, Christopher John Rogers as Designer of the Year and i-D‘s Carlos Nazario as Editor of the Year; Liya Kebede was recognized with a Fashion Icon Award, while famed stylist and creative director Freddie Leiba received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Then, there was the fashion show, starring collections from Charles Harbison Studio, Shawn Pean of June79, Johnathan Hayden and TIER — all brands owned and created by Black men — as well as Harbison’s collaboration with Banana Republic. Afterwards, guests boarded double-decker buses to view a special Harlem’s Fashion Row window display created in partnership with Bergdorf Goodman, featuring looks from each designer.

Originally studying architecture before switching to fashion, Harbison began his career in New York with stints at Michael Kors, Luca Luca and Billy Reid before launching his own label in 2013. The core values of both his design process and his business practices are sustainability, inclusivity and innovation. That’s why he trusted Daniel to broker the collaboration with Banana Republic.

“Frankly, I trust Brandice,” he says. “I have a relationship with Banana Republic because I worked there in college, and their sensibilities around modern luxury, easy separates and a connection to the environment all resonate with me. And that accessibility is important to me.” The capsule launches in October on bananarepublic.gap.com and in select Banana Republic stores; the Harbison Studio collection is available for purchase online now.

“When I was thinking about the inspiration behind this collection, I thought about the things I was presently in love with, and honestly what I missed the most was my mother because I hadn’t seen her in over a year,” Harbison says. “The place where I was finding the most respite and peace was in nature, so I found a story that linked those two ideas — that of a Black woman pioneer.”

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June79 by Shawn Pean is Pean’s first foray into the creative side of fashion. As a former senior executive at Balmain, Valentino and Saks Fifth Avenue, he brings a unique sensibility to the traditional ways we think about suiting and the business of fashion. “My design process comes from a mix of both worlds, creative and analytical,” he says.

From his perspective, the suit has been around for decades but hasn’t changed much fundamentally, despite the fact that how we do business now has: “When you think about how we go about our day psychologically, from working on our phones to now being on Zoom calls to meeting someone for lunch to then meeting someone for drinks, most guys reached out saying they felt over or underdressed in each situation.” This inspired Pean’s aesthetic of work-meets-athleisure with a strong emphasis on luxury and streamlined tailoring manufactured in New York.

Johnathan Hayden, meanwhile, is interested in using technology to make fashion that endures and is inclusive. Hayden employs user-experience-based design techniques to ensure that even during the creative process, he isn’t contributing to waste. Allowing his consumers — which tend to be women in STEM — to have input on design as it’s happening is one way of ensuring the final product is something they love and want to keep for a while.

“I spent the last nine months really asking our customers, ‘How did you survive the last year?’ And we categorized this into four groups and they were ways that I also coped with the last year,” Hayden says. Those four groups — transformation, movement, growth and meditation — served as the core of that design process.

Hayden’s intentionality extends to how he presents his work, too. For the music accompanying his debut, he chose a piece called “The Birds Belong to All of Us,” inspired by the racist encounter between Christian Cooper and Amy Cooper in 2020. With this collection, Hayden wanted to acknowledge the strife of what happened in the wake of that incident, George Floyd’s death and the pandemic, while also bringing to life something beautiful — yet another testament to Black creatives using art to endure hard times.

TIER is the fashion brainchild of college friends turned business partners Nigeria Ealey (creative director), Esaïe Jean-Simon (finance director) and Victor James (art director). The collection features statement-making streetwear for men and women, and is a true testament to the collaborative power of allowing each team member to own their specific role. “We all connected because we have different styles but collective interests,” says Ealey.

The Brooklyn-born team used the past year and a half to become more intentional with the use of their platform. “We want to create something that is going to last longer than us. So you have to be more strategic in order to do that,” Ealey says. 

During the pandemic, TIER exceeded its profit goals and was able to secure its first studio space, but it didn’t feel right to celebrate that success while so many others were suffering. From partnering with local restaurants to provide meals to essential workers to hosting an annual entrepreneur festival, the brand works to amplify smaller businesses and support the community that has supported them from inception.

Daniel founded Harlem’s Fashion Row in an effort to provide multicultural fashion designers with the financial, professional and creative support independent businesses need to develop and promote their work. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, she established ICON360 Inc., a 501(c)(3), to provide resources for Black designers and HBCUs with a mission to achieve sustainable growth in the fashion industry, last year. Harlem’s Fashion Row continued to give back to its design community at New York Fashion Week: At the conclusion of the awards ceremony, each designer who presented that evening was awarded a $10,000 grant from Crown Royal and ICON360.

Photo: Jason Mendez/Getty Images

Harlem’s 137th Street, where CEO and founder Daniel started Harlem’s Fashion Row in 2007, served as the runway, with guests seated in the traditional row format and on the stoops of local residents. This only added to the sense of community within the Black creative space, which aptly reflected the evening’s theme: Renaissance Forever.

During the Great Migration, Harlem drew about 175,000 of nearly six million African Americans fleeing the terror and violence that followed the Civil War and seeking better lives outside of the South. This small Manhattan neighborhood became home to some of the brightest minds in writing, music, art, dance and philosophy, which gave rise to the Harlem Renaissance. This became a crucial point in the evolution of Black American culture as we worked to create an identity beyond that of enslaved people.

As we’re currently enduring yet another period of social injustice, Daniel felt it only right to bring HFR back home for this year’s event. “You know with Harlem and with Black people, there’s a forever renaissance,” she says. “We’re continuing to evolve. We’re continuing to create. We’re continuing to innovate.”

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Source: Fashionista.com

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