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Fashion, History, Interview, On the Street, Pop Culture

Sankofa Couture: Interview with School of Thought Collection Creators

December 15, 2015

by Stephanie “Rhythm” Keene 

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photo credit: Mike Ryan/Brick x Birch (all photos in this post)

I recently I sat down with Maryam Pugh of Philadelphia Printworks and Donte Neal of Mars Five to discuss their fashion design collaboration, the collection “School of Thought.” The “School of Thought” collection “imagines a different world where colleges and institutions have been established based on the philosophies of Marcus Garvey, Audre Lorde, Ida B. Wells, Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver and James Baldwin. The collection represents the double consciousness experienced by” African diasporic people in America  “and creates a safe space for the praxis of liberation.” [Editor’s Note: The interviewer, Stephanie “Rhythm” Keene, is also featured in the “School of Thought” campaign photos wearing the ‘Tubman’ shirt]. 

Keene: How did this idea come about?

Neal: I had an art studio at the Window Factory in North Philly, and so did Maryam. I got to see the beginning of what Philadelphia Printworks was, and I always wanted to collaborate with them. Then in the beginning of 2015, we came up with this cool idea to do collegiate sweatshirts. I always wanted to do something that had a collegiate theme, and [liked] being able to do that with Philadelphia Printworks by way of using very significant black intellectuals.

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Keene: How did you choose which intellectuals to use? Will others show up later?

Neal: There was a much larger list. We wanted to, at least for this run, to do names that were a good balance between men and women.

Pugh: Any time we design a collection, there’s always that balance of trying to find people that we think are impactful and someone that has done things that we feel deserve to be brought to the light and recognized and honored. If it goes well, we can expand the collection to include other names and other products.

Neal: We wanted to make sure that we grounded ourselves somewhat in reality; if these schools existed, what would be the cornerstone of their educational system? So [for example] Garvey Industrial Institute. So we focused on the technology of industry, the building of factories, etc. Ida B. Wells was one of the writers who started writing about the lynchings in the South in the height of it, when it was going down. [Someone going to that fictional school] could be someone who maybe wants to be involved in politics, bringing important subjects to light regardless of what kind of adversity they’re [facing] at the moment. So we didn’t want to pick names out of a hat because these names are cool. These are the ‘schools of thought.’ These are the ideas of importance, and here are some people that represent these ideas.

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Keene: The timing of this project feels really important given the current state of affairs for black people, particularly in America. How intentional was that, and what are your thoughts about the images of this line, juxtaposed against images of what’s happening in America right now?

Pugh: Philadelphia Printworks has been doing this for 4 or 5 years and it’s interesting to see how the climate of the world affects the things we do. Specifically now, it’s very important that we have these positive images and think of ways we can manifest the future we’d like to see.

Neal: I hope this collection and this effort can bridge the gap between people who started with the same fire that [the youth] have now. It would be great to have youth adopt these names into their way of thinking and draw a comparison between what they’re going through now in their fight and what was going on in the times of the folks that appear on these sweatshirts.

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Pugh: Historically, the younger people are where the revolution comes from, but we can’t lose what we learned in the previous generations. It’s the idea of Sankofa – going back and trying to apply what we’ve learned from the past. With the concept of this collection, we were able to take past revolutionaries and apply it in a very futuristic way.

Neal: This is very Afrofuturistic. We are imagining our future, planting the seed for a manifestation of a bright future.

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Keene: The “A Different World” [late 80s and early 90s NBC sitcom about a fictional HBCU called Hillman College] connection is seamless. How did the idea to make that visual connection come about?

Pugh: “A Different World,” [the films] “School Daze,” “Higher Learning,” they all talked about really important topics, that unfortunately we’re still experiencing now. And I’ve seen the younger generation reach out to these shows [and films] that we grew up on and use them as a conduit, so it made sense for us to also tie our collection into it.

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Neal: For a lot of black folks, that alternate universe in which these characters existed, there was hope in this show. Being young and impressionable, seeing that show I was just like “Wow. Here are these completely normal… They don’t fit like a stereotype. This black person is like this and this black person is like that, and they’re friends and they exist in the same [space].” Seeing that was really inspirational. The impact and the positive influence that show had on black folks, that was imagined. That was written by somebody. If someone can imagine that and make such a great impact and inspire black people, why can’t we at any point imagine a product, whether it’s a book, a movie, a piece of clothing, art… We can imagine things and create a space in the future in which these ideas can exist. Who knows? Maybe one day we might have a Tubman University.

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You can purchase items from the “School of the Thought” collection here.

Follow Philadelphia Printworks on Twitter, IG, and Tumblr: @philaprint

Follow Donte Neal of Mars Five on Twitter: @donteneal_

Stephanie “Rhythm” Keene is a Philadelphia-based writer and performer. She is a co-host of The Harvest, the largest open mic experience in Philadelphia. A proud graduate of The Lincoln University (PA), she is an ally and advocate fighting for the freedom of all people. Follow her on Twitter and IG: @rhythmkeene

Beauty, Fashion, WERK!

Sistas That Slay Together, Stay Together: A Quann Sisters Photo Essay

November 10, 2015

by Eric Darnell Pritchard (photo credit (above): Hannah Thomson via vogue.com)

From Venus and Serena Williams and Gigi and Bella Hadid, to Solange Knowles and big sister Beyonce, and Jessica and Ashley Simpson, we have learned time and time again that sisters who slay together, stay together. This a photo essay dedicated to another dynamic duo: The Quann Sisters.

At the recent 2015 CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund Awards, a number of fashion luminaries took to the red carpet serving opulence, fierceness, elegance, and of course, luxury. A standout among the crowd at the awards, and in fashion, style and music generally, are Cipriana Quann and TK Wonder/Takenyah “TK” Quann, known affectionately to many as “The Quann Sisters.” The pair, as a result of their red carpet looks, made it onto yet another best dressed list wearing gorgeous ravishing purple (TK) and green (Cirpriana) Ohne Titel dresses to the awards event. The sisters have long been among my personal favorites in the style world, and thus their fierceness on that night was no surprise to me (or anybody else, really). As I said of Grace Jones in a recent post, The Quann Sisters too epitomize the fierceness, beauty, brilliance, and courage that is a  “black girl arrogance” that deserves praise, as they are defining genius, sophistication, and style against the grain and on their own terms in a world that has not and does not always celebrate Black women and girls.

Cipriana is founder and editor-in-chief of the lifestyle website Urban Bush Babes. TK is a musician (check out her music video “Van Gogh”) and a contributing writer for her sister’s website. The sisters, Baltimore natives, reside in NYC and in recent years have been featured in a number of print and online publications including the venerable fashion institutions Vogue  and W Magazine, respectively. Both have done much to educate people about the importance and beauty of natural hair care via their writings and visual archive as they also model as well, and are represented by IMG.

Here the Quann sisters had the following to say about their view of fashion:

“Fashion to us tells your personality, it speaks to who you are inside. I mean, some people may say style is superficial, but I think there is so much more to fashion than just appearance. Women find confidence in the clothes that they wear, so we find there is something very empowering knowing what works for you. ” – TK Wonder

“My twin and I have always been into fashion. We always joke and say in the womb we were best friends.”
– Cipriana Quann

What follows is a photo essay of the slay-age known as The Quann Sisters, who are amassing a virtual archive of photographs that will sure to be favorites in the fashion and style histories written by the future:

photo credit: Adrian Morales - snappylifestyle.com

photo credit: Adrian Morales

 

Inez & Vinoodh for Vogue Magazine February 2015

Inez & Vinoodh for Vogue Magazine February 2015

 

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photo credit: Diego Villarreal

 

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photo credit: Hannan Saleh

 

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via coveuteur.com

 

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photo credit: Diego Villarreal

 

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photo credit: Diego Villarreal

 

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photo credit: Diego Villarreal

 

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via islandboiphotography-Instagram/Joey Rosado

 

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photo credit: Tyler Joe via Elle.com

 

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photo credit: Charlotte Wales via urbanbushbabes.com

 

 

And now that your edges are all snatched and collected into little dime bags, do know that your hair will only be redistributed back to you in said bags with receipts that you have read and shared this photo essay. Also, as I am sure this photo essay will leave you wanting to see more of the Quann Sisters putting in that WERK!, you can follow them on Instagram: @ciprianaquann and @tk_wonder.

 

Beauty, Beauty, Fashion, Film, History, Music, Pop Culture, WERK!

A Moment of Grace: In Praise of Black Girl Arrogance

November 2, 2015

by Eric Darnell Pritchard

This Grace is sufficient. Maybe she inspired you to become more flexible so you, too, could bend and contort yourself into a scene of “Island Life.” Or, perhaps she hula-hooped you into a trance, moving the cylindrical toy around her waist as she, mic in hand, belted out one of her popular songs. It could very well be her legendary beauty – her fierceness piercing the still life of every photo she has taken, or her masterful, delicious storytelling in her recently released memoirs. In whatever incarnation you encountered Grace Jones, you, like me, are likely to have gotten your life, or multiple lives because Grace slays you and you are reborn. Grace is reincarnation.

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Grace Jones represents the very best of so many aesthetically sublime and delicious possibilities and realizations for global fashion and popular culture. In addition to her album covers, music videos, and fashion editorials, she is etched into our minds through so many other moments: her role of eccentric fashion model Strangé in the 1992 film “Boomerang”; any one of the many photos of her live performances in her decades long career, such as a 1987 performance where she collaborated with artist Keith Haring for her stage costume; and her memorable runway walks such as at the Summer 1988/89 Patrick Kelly show in Paris, where she walked the runway dressed in a black bathing suit and cape adorned with an applique of neon stars and planets, red tights, a bustle of individual scarves of various colors hanging from her waste, and a hat with a long white ponytail hanging out of the top. In each of these moments and so many more, the camera shutter opens and closes on her to fulfill the promise, play, and pulchritude of every single image she has created. Her visual and performance archive is always embodying and emboldening the radical potential of fashion, music, dance, performance art and photography for exploding the neat boundaries built around race, gender, sexuality, time, and space from one moment to the next. Grace is divine.

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The icon and iconography of Grace Jones emerges as a clear archive of Black girl arrogance in all its fashionable fierceness and intervention. Black girl arrogance refers to both a spirit and embodiment of intelligent, beautiful, desirable, fierce daring that Black girls and women represent – whether on the runway or in the streets, in the classroom or the boardroom, at the piano or behind the podium – that makes their presence known in a social, political, cultural context or milieu that would rather render them unknown. It is thus at times an organic way of being, and in other moments a chosen tactic, that is always and already for one’s self. Sometimes that arrogance is refusing the gaze and living one’s life, and still other times it demands of you, “see me.” The fact that anyone else gets to witness this divinity is, well, grace. And I return to Grace Jones here to give her the respect she so deserves, but also because it is through returning to Grace that I believe Black girl arrogance, in all of its complexities and genius, is re-membered for now and for what is to come.

For instance, Black girl arrogance has once again been made legible at the intersections of fashion and style with television, film, and music. We saw it just recently in Emmy-nominated actress and transgender activist Laverne Cox’s stunning photos in Allure Magazine, and in her many other moments including her picture on a 2014 cover of Time Magazine. We see it in Academy Award-winner Lupita Nyong’o’s boundary breaking and trendsetting beauty and glamour, which has completely raised the bar for red carpets all over the globe. We see it in Solange Knowles’ epic wedding photo, which flooded our Facebook newsfeeds, Twitter timelines, and Instagram pages with panoramic shots of gorgeous Black women adorned in radiant ivory gowns, and effecting the etherealness of any dream we wish would come true. And where Solange leaves us dreaming, big sister Beyoncé made “I woke up like this” the mantra of every bold and brilliant person ready to declare that who I am and how I am is already “Flawless.” The 2015 “Black Girls Rock” award show that aired on BET and Centric offered numerous examples of Black girl arrogance as intervention in many of the speeches including those by singer Erykah Badu, educator Nadia Lopez, FLOTUS Michelle Obama, Dr. Helene Gayle, and actress Jada Pinkett Smith. What about Rihanna’s recent performance of “Bitch Better Have My Money” at the #iHeartRadio Awards? The performance included many elements of power moments from the archive of Black women international pop star performances, from Lil’ Kim’s green wig and furs in the video for her 90s hit “Crush On You” to Diana Ross’s epic exiting of the superbowl halftime show in a helicopter that descended on the stage to whisk her away (also reminiscent of Grace Jones’ Strangé’s epic arrival in “Boomerang” via helicopter, and then a chariot driven by men). Here Rihanna’s daring is part of a continuum in her performances of Black girl arrogance, including her homage to Josephine Baker on the occasion of the legendary performer’s birthday at the red carpet of the 2014 CFDA Awards, where Rihanna was clad in a transparent bosom bearing silver beaded gown and bejeweled headdress. For Black women performers and Black girl arrogance, the archive and the ancestry matters. Grace matters.

It is imperative to note the historical antecedents for Grace Jones – the eccentric freedom of Eartha Kitt, the elegance and sophistication of Lena Horne and Ruby Dee, and the beauty folk ways of Maya Angelou and Cicely Tyson most come to mind. Another historical antecedent that demonstrates Black girl arrogance, and laid important roots for Grace Jones to later help define and then defy boundaries around Blackness and femininity, appears in the wonderful documentary Versailles ’73: An American Revolution. The documentary examines the legendary battle at Versailles fashion face-off between five American and five Parisian design houses, a tale examined in greater depth in the new book The Battle of Versailles: The Night American Fashion Stumbled into the Spotlight and Made History by Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan. Among the points made by several of the interviewees that appear in Versaille ‘73, including legendary fashion model and editor China Machado, fashion historian Barbara Summers, and fashion and beauty editor Mikki Taylor, was that the success of the American presentation at that show was the presence of Black models Norma Jean Darden, Pat Cleveland, Bethann Hardison, and so many others, whose walk of “affirmation” to quote Taylor, was what set the American show apart from the Parisian set.

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While Taylor’s observation about the impact of the Black models affirmative stance is in itself a rich one to engage, I look at that moment, at Grace, and the intersections of fashion and identity and submit that amongst the gems that Black models brought (and still bring) to the runway was something that is actually in excess of “affirmation”: Black girl arrogance. This Black girl arrogance, though embedded in the very movement and being-ness of the Black models at the ’73 show at Versailles is so missing from the runways of today’s fashion shows in the lack of racial ethnic diversity, as rightfully noted in the 2014 open letter of protest authored by Hardison, and models Iman and Naomi Campbell. A black girl arrogance that haunts us when we remember the days of fashion past, and are reminded of the disappeared characteristic of personality that was once an essential ingredient to the development of a signature walk and presence on the runways for any model, Black or otherwise.

I am convinced that whether or not uniqueness and personality were ever embraced, Grace Jones would still be who she was and is. What other way was there for her to be? Still, in the way that she pushes us beyond our comfort zones, and shows us what it means to create a path for one’s self through an ethos of having no fucks to give, the existence of Grace Jones and all she has meant is priceless. Here’s hoping the next era of fashion and popular culture will applaud and embrace these moments of productive defiance like the Black girl arrogance revival of which I write, on the runways, in ad campaigns, and at the head of design houses and fashion magazines. Clearly television has received the memo, as evident in shows headed by defiant, brilliant, Black women are at the top of the ratings and lording over the zeitgeist of popular culture, from Kerry Washington’s portrayal of Olivia Pope on “Scandal” and Gabrielle Union’s Mary Jane Paul on BET’s “Being Mary Jane,” to Viola Davis’s multilayered Professor Annalise Keating on ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder,” and most recently, leading the pack is Taraji P. Henson’s critically acclaimed and popularly adored Cookie Lyon on Fox’s juggernaut “Empire.” It is the very thing that seems to revive the very lifeblood of this global industry and persists in fashioning a future. No matter what, Grace Jones, her predecessors and descendants will carry on being their fierce self. They woke up like this.

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Beauty, Fashion, Runway Review

“The Art of Fabric”: African Fashion Week, Chicago (Review)

October 30, 2015

by Dominique Michelle Davis / Photo Credit: @ChicagoFashionDiva

The 2nd African Fashion Week of Chicago hosted at Victor Hall proved to be another great success. For the second year running, founder and CEO, Christianah Ajanaku, has managed to pull talented designers together to create a runway show inspired by the art of fabric. Designers in the show included the brands 828 Collection, Cocushubi, St. Frimpong, Akese Stylelines, Abayadake, Anzhelika Crochet, Binta Sagale, Maryam Garba, Slice by Cake, Simply Cecily and Tiffney Deo Allure.

This was a unique experience in comparison to the standard runway show. What separates this fashion event from others is the way its producers incorporate the arts (visual, music and textiles) in a way that is inclusive to all artists, including the broad and diverse range of the models for the runway show.

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The theme of this year’s event, The Art of Fabric, inspired designers to use a variety of textiles, prints and colors with a range of motifs. The theme also invited designers to challenge the traditional structural design of garments. Vibrant earth tone hues of green, blue, orange and yellow were consistent among all the collections, and what what is currently on trend for the 2015-2016 in fashion generally. Of all the designers, Simply Cecily, Maryam Garba and St. Frimpong were among my favorite collection pieces.

The production of the event was a definite progression from last year’s event, which was held at Jackson Junge Gallery in Chicago. However, with a theme this broad, and with the ability to work with other art form incorporated into the show’s production, I would have liked to see the art of fabric imbedded in more than just the designer’s collections. For example, the “art of fabric” as a theme give the opportunity for the interior design of the location to be incorporated into the runway show, as well as the integrating of the theme with the wonderfully venturous hairstyles and accessories could have been amplified to create a cohesive beauty look for the shows that used hairstyle to showcase fabric. This would also exhibit the diversity of hair textures and hairstyles among the broad range of wonderful models for the show, as well as among the event coordinators for African Fashion Week – Chicago.

Despite this minor critique of those very few details, and even in the absence of what my thoughts on what would have been additional compliments to the show, I applaud Christianah Ajanaku for her leadership, creativity, inspiration and ability to be a trailblazer. Ajanaku has created a platform for artists to debut and present their creations in a great way. I look forward to African Fashion Week – Chicago 2016 and to following Christianah Ajanaku and the designers to see their creative visions flourish for what will undoubtedly be many years to come.

Fashion, Runway Review

Valentino: Paris Fashion Week, Spring 2016

October 19, 2015

Valentino followed very impressive Fall’15 collection with equally gorgeous one for Paris Fashion Week, Spring/Summer 2016. I liked the cornrow hair look selected for the show, and want to especially highlight the Black models for the show given this cultural origin, though the show did feature it on all models as well.

News, Pop Culture, Television

#BlackGirlMagic: The Emmy Awards Edition

October 19, 2015

Nevermind the naysayers. Behold the intellect, talent, excellence, perseverance, courage and beauty of Black women. Congratulations to Uzo Aduba, Regina King, and the history making Viola Davis on their Emmy wins. And congratulations to all of their, OUR ancestors and elders who’ve worked so hard for us to have a night like last night. Yes, there is work still to do. Viola Davis’ speech said as much, and he fact that she is the first in 2015 to win this award says as much. But, dear hearts, there is also joy. Today is about joy. Set any negative comments aside.

Fashion, News, News, Pop Culture, Television

“Empire” Style for Vogue Magazine’s ‘September Issue’

October 17, 2015

Lee Daniels and the cast of “Empire,” with supermodel castmate Naomi Campbell, model “It Girl” Jourdan Dunn and pop music’s The Weekend, slay a show themed fashion spread photographed by the legendary Mario Testino for Vogue Magazine’s famous ‘September Issue.’ The Kehinde Wiley painting in the background “Judith Beheading Helefernes” (2012) puts emphasis on the word slay! But I am LIVING for this photo. Taraji P Henson is lovely and fierce as always, and the men of Empire look yummy as ever too. And I want those pants Jourdan Dunn is wearing immediately, they’re beautiful!

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Naomi Campbell and Jourdan Dunn (above). Naomi is wearing a Givenchy fur chubby over a Nina Ricci gown. While Jourdan is wearing Proenza Schouler. Somebody say “Gla-Mour!”

News, WERK!

Serena Williams Serves in Vogue!

April 23, 2015

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Serena Williams serves it on the court and off the court too! Here she is in a breathtakingly gorgeous red Donna Karan gown, photographed by Annie Leibovitz as part of a story for the April edition of Vogue.

Editor's Aesthetics, History

1968: Cicely Tyson Slays in Eve Arnold Photos

April 23, 2015

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Celebrating one of my favorite style icons, the incomparable Ms. Cicely Tyson. These spectacular photos of Ms. Tyson were taken by legendary photojournalist Eve Arnold in 1968. This kind of work was also pivotal to the struggle for civil rights that occurred which was not only a struggle happening as it pertained to segregated public accommodations, laws, and politics, but also representationally in terms of style and fashion grounded in Black/Africanist aesthetics as exemplified by the refrain “Black Is Beautiful!” And it is.