This year, Pride month — which marks the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, when Black LBGTQ+ activists like Stormé DeLarverie and Marsha P. Johnson led demonstrations in NYC after the police raided Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn — intersects with a moment in history when the racist treatment of Black people in America is finally getting the widespread attention and action it deserves. Now it’s more important than ever to tell the often untold stories of Black queer designers, models, stylists, and more who’ve shaped the fashion industry. It’s also time to address present-day issues head-on: Many Black and queer people working in fashion are still subject to inequalities like pay discrepancies, tokenization, and difficulties getting coverage for their work in a landscape that more often than not favors whiteness, as well as people who identify as cis and straight.
When talking about Black queer people in fashion, it's important to acknowledge people who paved way like Willi Smith, the Philadelphia-born designer credited for introducing streetwear to the runway. The Philadelphia-born designer, who passed away in 1987 from AIDS-related causes, was also the youngest designer to be nominated for a Coty Award in 1971, a feat he accomplished five years before launching his own label, WilliWear. Created with friend and business partner Laurie Mallet, the brand quickly became a favorite of everyday people in New York due to its affordable price point and cool, sporty aesthetic. According to the CFDA, in 1986, WilliWear was grossing over $25 million a year and sold in over 500 retailers. At the time of his death, Smith was widely regarded as the most successful Black designer in fashion.
Today there are many prominent and successful Black LGBTQ+ people in fashion. From Ama Elsesser, the Savage x Fenty model who in January announced that they were non-binary to CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner Christopher John Rogers, ahead, a list of Black queer people in fashion to follow and support this month and beyond.
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