Last night marked the first installment of Harlem’s Fashion Row Conversation series and featured iconic designer Stephen Burrows.
The winner of three Coty Awards and the CFDA’s Board of Directors Special Tribute Award, Burrows’ fan list boasts some of Hollywood’s most legendary icons. Cher, Diana Ross, Oprah, Vanessa Williams, Farrah Fawcett, Heidi Klum, Grace Jones and Barbara Streisand have all worn his designs.
He is the first designer of color to receive international acclaim following his exceptional segment in 1973’s Grand Divertissement à Versailles which also featured Christian Dior, Oscar de la Renta and Yves Saint Laurent.
His rise to global recognition is all the more remarkable considering the racism that plagued the fashion industry in the 1960s when Burrows first emerged on the scene and still exists today.
When asked about the lack of diversity in the industry, Burrows cited funding and press as barriers to success for black fashion designers. “Funding keeps designers of color from advancing. That’s the hurdle to get over and it’s very hard to achieve. It’s easier for white people [to get funding]. That’s why there’s not so much diversity.”
Of the lack of press for designers of color, he said: “It is a problem. I don’t know how to solve, nor fathom how to solve. All advertising goes to white publications and not diverse publications.” He continued: “Everything goes back to funding. If you have money, they can’t ignore you.”