Black Excellence and Fashion History

by SHOWstudio on 22 October 2021

From iconic runway moments to culture as a dirty word, our new must-watch TikTok series spotlights black excellence in fashion history.

From iconic runway moments to culture as a dirty word, our new must-watch TikTok series spotlights black excellence in fashion history.

Mainstream fashion history is a whitewashed affair, just take Ozwald Boateng's tenure at Givenchy or Patrick Robinson's role in creating Giorgio Armani's era-defining power suits. Meet the reputable creatives not usually considered in big picture fashion conversations in our must-watch series of videos on TikTok and feature below. Taking the notion that sometimes the less obvious is the most obvious, we spotlight the impact of names you should know if you're really serious about fashion history and the industry we occupy today. Fashion critic M-C Hill plays host, introducing viewers to an allegiance of talent in his own unique way across the four chapters Catwalk, Notes on Beauty, Black Sass and Culture as a Dirty Word.

Here, we highlight the icons, big and small, who have had a lasting impact.

Catwalk Part 1
Catwalk Part 2

Head to SHOWstudio's TikTok to catch the rest of the series.

Fashion Designers

  • Duro Olowu is a Nigerian-born British fashion designer and curator best known for his innovative combinations of patterns and textiles that draw inspiration from his international background. In 2004, Olowu launched his eponymous womenswear label. An empire-waist multi print silk dress from his debut S/S 05 collection became the dress of the year when editor Sally Singer featured it in the pages of American Vogue, and was helmed as the ‘Duro Dress’. In 2005, Olowu won the New Designer of the Year Award at the British Fashion Awards, making him the only designer to do so prior to their first catwalk show. In early 2020, Olowu curated Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, marking the first time the museum hired a guest art curator throughout its history.
  • Andre Walker, the New York-born fashion designer, has been a prolific force in the industry for over 30 years. His interest in fashion peaked when he staged a show at aged 15 in 1981 in Brooklyn, which was bought by Patricia Field. His first designs were androgynous jackets and pant-skirts, inspired by his school days in London. His professional career began when he designed for Willi Smith’s Williwear in the 1980s, before working for the designer Patrick Kelly in Paris. Designers including Marc Jacobs and Kim Jones have since looked to him for guidance, Virgil Abloh implemented his sketches at Off-White, and Walker has also collaborated with Comme des Garçons.“That classicism, that purity and that utilitarian spirit is really what I associate with American fashion.”
'America: A Design Lexicon', The Met, Andre Walker
  • Janelle Monae is an American singer, rapper, and actress. Her career began in 2003 and has since led the star to receive eight Grammy Award nominations while winning an MTV Video Music Award and the ASCAP Vanguard Award. Monae was also honoured with the Billboard Women in Music Rising Star Award in 2015 and the Trailblazer of the Year Award in 2018. In 2013, Boston City Council announced October 16 as 'Janelle Monáe Day' in the city of Boston, Massachusetts, in recognition of her artistry and social leadership. Monae made her theatrical film debut in 2016, starring in Hidden Figures as NASA mathematician and aerospace engineer Mary Jackson, and also appeared in Barry Jenkins' Moonlight the same year. Moonlight won the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 89th annual ceremony.
  • Kenneth Ize is a Nigerian designer whose clothes reinterpret traditional West African fabrics and Nigerian craftsmanship. He works from his studio in the suburb of Sabo Yaba in Nigeria with a small team (although some of his garments are produced in Italy). In 2020 he designed a capsule for the Karl Lagerfeld brand. Ize’s celebrity fans include Beyoncé, Donald Glover (Childish Gambino), Burma Boy, Naomi Campbell and Anna Wintour.
  • Lawrence Steele is an American-born, Milan-based designer who is best known for his unapologetically sexy and feminine designs. Steele graduated with a first-class degree in fine art from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and after a stint in Tokyo as a design assistant, he moved to Milan and spent five years as a design assistant for Franco Moschino. In 1990, he joined Miuccia Prada and, in 1994, launched his own label of women's clothing which was highly appreciated by clientele including Madonna, Anna Wintour, Oprah Winfrey, Julia Roberts and Jennifer Aniston. His collaborative projects include costumes for Vanessa Beecroft's VB48 and costumes for Filippo Timi's Don Giovanni with designer Fabio Zambernardi. He worked alongside his partner Francesco Risso at Marni until late last year, before returning to the label Aspesi.
  • Ozwald Boateng is a British men’s fashion designer of Ghanaian heritage, specialising in tailoring. Initially inspired by the suits his father wore when he was young, his Ghanaian heritage has always been at the core of his creative process, fusing this heritage with classic Savile Row tailoring. He first rose to notoriety in the 1980s dressing celebrities including Mick Jagger, before he opened up his first studio on Portobello Road in 1986. A profile in The Face helped to skyrocket his career, and he became the first tailor to hold a runway show at Paris Fashion Week in 1994, before becoming the youngest tailor to open a store on Vigo Street at the end of Saville Row. He was the creative director of menswear at Givenchy from 2003-2005, and has designed costumes for Sex and the City, Ugly Betty and The Matrix.
  • Patrick Robinson, the American-born fashion designer, launched a surfwear line whilst growing up in Orange County, LA, before heading to study at Parsons School of Design in New York and Paris. While there, he worked for the designer Patrick Kelly as his first assistant. Early on in his career, he resurrected the Giorgio Armani since Le Collezioni, bringing it back to profitability over 4 years. 'Robinson was responsible for many of the Giorgio Armani power suits that female big shots have relied upon when dealmaking and strong-arming,' wrote the Washington Post’s Robin Givhan. Later, he took the helm at Anne Klein and was also the head designer for the Gap, creative director at Perry Ellis and Paco Rabanne, before launching the sustainable activewear brand Paskho in 2013. He has been a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) since 1994.
  • Casely-Hayford is a fashion brand launched by the late British designer Joe Casely-Hayford and his son Charlie Casely-Hayford in 2009. Produced in Japanese factories, the men's and womenswear label takes its cues from bespoke tailoring and contemporary streetwear and ready-to-wear. Joe Casely-Hayford was previously the creative director of Gieves & Hawkes (2005-2008), having launched his own trailblazing tailoring label in 1984. He died in 2019, and his son has run Casely-Hayford since.


  • Jessica White is an American model, actress and director, and executive director of the Angels Wings Foundation - a charity which supports underprivileged children in Thailand. White has starred in campaigns for Chloe and Jean-Paul Gaultier, landed her first gig for Vogue after one week of modelling following a chance meeting with Anna Wintour, W and Harper's Bazaar and walked as a Victoria's Secret Angel in 2001. She openly speaks about struggling with a cocaine addiction as an adolescent, and mental health. She says modelling helped her to escape an abusive home life.
  • Anok Yai is a South-Sudanese American supermodel and is considered one of her generation's most successful models. Her career rapidly took off in 2017 after being snapped by a photographer while attending Howard University's homecoming, and after quickly going viral, Yai subsequently received thousands of messages from agencies asking to represent her as a model. Since then, Yai has made history by being the second Black model (after Naomi Campbell) to open a Prada show, which she did for the brand's A/W 18 collection showcased in Milan. Yai has also appeared in editorials for British Vogue, Dazed, V Magazine and AnOther Magazine and covered issues of Vogue Italia, CR Fashion Book and W Magazine.
  • Jourdan Dunn is a British model who, after being scouted aged 15 while on a shopping trip in Primark, signed to The Squad Management in 2006, leading her to quick newly found fame. It was not too long before Dunn made her runway debut in 2007 at New York Fashion Week, and in February 2008, was announced as the first black model to walk for Prada in over a decade; after Naomi Campbell first opened for the house in 1997. Featuring in May 2009's US Vogue as a 'Face of the Moment', Dunn, along with Karlie Kloss and Cara Delevigne, was one of the most prominent models of her era and has appeared on the cover of several Vogue's alongside an extensive roster of other publications. In 2020, Dunn announced she was leaving fashion behind to start a new career in acting.
Jourdan Dunn, 'A Certain Romance' for British Vogue - November 2019, photograph Nick Knight
  • Pat Cleveland is an American fashion model known for being one of the first African-American models within the fashion industry to achieve prominence as a runway and editorial model. After being scouted by the notable fashion editor Carrie Donovan's assistant in 1966, Vogue profiled Cleveland as an up-and-coming young designer. Ditching her career in design, Cleveland signed to Wilhelmina models at 18 and went on to be photographed by Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Steven Meisel and Andy Warhol, among others. After persistent racism, she relocated to Paris in 1971 and soon became a house model for Karl Lagerfeld, vowing not to return to the US until a black model appeared on the American cover of Vogue. During the 1970s, she modelled for designers such as Valentino, Oscar de la Renta, Yves Saint Laurent, Thierry Mugler, Diane von Furstenberg and Christian Dior. She also became one of Halston's favoured troupe of models, nicknamed the Halstonettes, and walked in the infamous 1973 Battle of Versailles show, and also had a brief stint as Salvador Dalí's muse. 
  • Bethann Hardison is an American fashion model and activist, and like Pat Cleveland, is well known for being one of the first high profile black models after her appearance at the legendary Battle of Versailles fashion show in 1973. Concerned with the lack of representation in the fashion industry, Hardison later changed her focus from modelling to activism in 1984, starting the Bethann Management Agency to help diversify the fashion industry. In 1988, she also co-founded the Black Girls Coalition with the model Iman to provide advocacy and support to African-American models, and is on the advisory board for the Black In Fashion Council, founded in 2020.
Pat Cleveland, photograph Irving Penn


  • Johnnie Sapong is a groomer and hairstylist based in London. He has contributed to top publications including CR Fashion Book, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Vogue, Numéro, and L’Officiel and has collaborated with high-profile photographers Guy Aroch, Annie Leibovitz, Ellen von Unwerth, Gilles Bensimon, and Steven Meisel.
  • Sharmadean Reid is an entrepreneur, creative consultant, stylist and the founder of WAH Nails, Beauty Stack and futuregirlcorp. Having graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2007 with first class honours in fashion communication, Reid began styling for i-D, Qvest and Neo. She has published two books on nail art. In 2019, after 10 years, WAH Nails closed so Reid could focus on the salon software management system Beautystack – a platform launched in 2017 for beauty pros working on a mobile or independent basis to women promote their work, promoting women and tech.
Sharmadean Reid


  • Matthew Josephs is a stylist and creative director who graduated from the BA Fashion Womenswear pathway at Central Saint Martins in 2009. Establishing himself at a young age, Josephs shot his first i-D story with Alasdair McLellan aged 19 and since has emerged as one of London's most talented stylists working with the likes of Dazed, Wonderland, Garage, GQ Style, Vogue Hommes Japan and L'Officiel Homme. Josephs now leads creative direction for the singer FKA Twigs on her videos, campaigns and editorial content.
  • June Ambrose is a costume designer and stylist responsible for some of the most iconic red carpet and music video fashion moments during the 1990s and early 2000s. During her work with music video director Hype Williams, Ambrose has styled Busta Rhymes, Puff Daddy, and perhaps most famously, Missy Elliot in ‘The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)’, whom she dressed to cartoonish proportions in a black blow-up suit. In 2020, Ambrose was announced as the new creative director of Puma.
  • Misa Hylton is a fashion stylist who has had a lasting impact on style in popular culture and hip hop. Hylton emerged as a pioneering force in the 1990s, crafting the looks of Lil’ Kim and Mary J. Blige. Remember that MTV VMAs 1999 Lil Kim purple look? Misa Hylton. 2018's Beyonce and Jay-Z Apeshit video? Custom MCM by Hylton. Her career began when she assisted on a Jodeci music video on the request of her boyfriend Sean Combs, who introduced her to artists at Uptown Records. During this time, looks she created for them were replicated by mainstream brands, with no credit given to Hylton and rarely to her clients.'I was not ever asked until recently to come into any luxury fashion house and create, or any photo shoot that was in a high end fashion magazine...I wasn’t invited to style it, but our style was being emulated.' In 2012 she opened Misa Hylton Fashion Academy,
Lil Kim at the MTV VMAs 1999, styled by Misa Hylton
  • Michael Roberts is a British fashion critic who's just about dabbled in every role of the industry's upper echelons, so much so, his role as fashion director at The New Yorker was created explicitly for him. Having tinkered in collage, writing, painting, styling and filmmaking over the years, Roberts' career began over 40 years ago at The Sunday Times. Referred to as 'the Jean Cocteau of the fashion world' in 1997 by Tina Brown, Roberts has held positions as a style editor at The Sunday Times and Vanity Fair and has worked as a design director of British Vogue, contributing editor of Condé Nast Traveler, Paris editor of Vanity Fair and fashion and art director for Tatler. 
  • Patti Wilson is a stylist and fashion consultant from New York City, fashion editor-at-large for Vogue Italia and senior contributing fashion editor for Dazed. Her first story for Vogue Italia was with the photographer David LaChapelle, who brought her on board after a period of working together, after being introduced by their agency. This would be the first project in a long working relationship with the magazine and editor Franca Sozzani. Throughout her career she has worked with some of the most important fashion photographers in the industry, including Steven Klein, Steven Meisel, Sarah Moon, Peter Lindbergh, Patrick Demarchelier, David LaChapelle, Sølve Sundsbø, Nick Knight, Mert and Marcus, and Terry Richardson. Recent projects include working closely with the American designer Halpern.


  • Solange Knowles is an American singer, songwriter, performance artist and actress. The younger sister of Beyoncé, Knowles has carved her own space in the industry in recent years, rising to critical acclaim. In 2013, Solange launched Saint Heron, a firm that produces a website that chronicles fashion and culture aimed at women of colour and also serves as a community organisation, an events company, and a label, Saint Records, which launched the musicians Kelela and Sampha. Most recently, the label created a supporting film showcasing finalists for the The Woolmark Prize 2021.
  • Toyin Idibapo is a London-based fashion photographer. She has contributed editorial work to magazines including: Doing Bird, Visionaire, Vogue Nippon, Vogue Homme, Arena Homme Plus and Dazed & Confused, and she has also worked with Gucci and Alexander McQueen. She continues to work on The Cult of Boys, her ongoing personal photographic project, which previously featured on SHOWstudio.
  • Barkley Hendricks was an American artist who painted almost exclusively Black subjects during the 1960s-1980s – his post-modern portraits of aloof, flamboyant and super stylish subjects have gone on to inspire contemporary artists like Kehinde Wiley and Kerry James Marshall. While travelling to Europe in his twenties, Hendricks found himself in awe of Old Master paintings by the likes of Rembrandt and Velázquez, but dismayed by the lack of representation of people of colour in the paintings. His best ever painting? A life-sized self portrait, Brown Sugar Vine (1970), where the artist appears totally nude wearing just sunglasses and a stocking cap.
  • Gunner Stahl, (real name Jonathan Simmons), is an American photographer from Atlanta, best known for snapping portraits of the world’s biggest hip-hop musicians on a 35mm point and shoot camera. Stahl got his start in photography by taking pictures of friends at school, parties and concerts when he was 18 years old, and subsequently made his name creating intimate portraits of musicians like Swae Lee, Wiz Khalifa and Post Malone back when they were on the up. Now, he frequently shoots Playboi Carti, Lil Yachty, the Weeknd, Tyler, The Creator and more, broadcasting the images online to his huge Instagram following.
  • Marc Baptiste is a Haitian-American photographer who created many iconic hip-hop album covers in the 90s, from Erykah Badu’s Baduizm (1997) to Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998). Since then, he has shot Michelle and Barack Obama, Prince, Janelle Monae, Erykah Badu, Spike Lee and more for various magazines including Vanity Fair, Equire, Rolling Stone and Vogue.



Interview: Pat Cleveland on The Battle of Versailles

09 February 2017
Pat Cleveland talks to Nick Knight about walking for Stephen Burrows in the iconic 'Battle of Versailles' 1973 fashion show.
Live Panel Discussion

Panel Discussion: Joe Casely-Hayford An Icon For Our Times

28 October 2020
Andrew Ibi is joined by Ekow Eshun, Karen Binns, Caroline Rush, Walé Adeyemi and Tolu Coker to discuss the legacy of designer Joe Casely-Hayford.

Nick Knight Shoots Anok Yai and Bella Hadid for British Vogue's August Issue

08 July 2020
Plot twist? It was all shot through Zoom.
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