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These nine remarkable women have undoubtedly shaped the fashion world. Some have been the first of many, while others have heightened the world’s expectations for their potential successors. black fashion icons black fashion icons
As Black History Month comes to an eventful close, we joyfully celebrate Black creators, trendsetters, and influential figures in fashion this #BlackHistoryMonth and all year long.
Zelda Wynn Valdes (1905 - 2001)
You may not know Zelda Wynn Valdes, but I’m sure you’ll instantly recognize her creative work. An African-American celebrity fashion designer and costumer, Zelda is best known for her original design of the Playboy Bunny costumes. Yes, the Hugh Hefner Playboy Bunnies. In 1949, he commissioned her to design the iconic ensemble.
She designed dresses for all the hottest celebrities of her time, including Dorothy Dandridge, Gladys Knight, and Eartha Kitt. Each thoughtful design embodied glamour and luxury.
Her legacy in luxe fashion design lived through The National Association of Black Fashion and Accessories Designers, which she helped co-found. The organization serves as the first of its kind to provide a gateway for Black luxury fashion designers into the fashion industry. Sad to relate, the NABFAD became inactive in 2013.
Dorothy Dandridge (1922 - 1965)
In a deeply segregated United States, prominent Black musicians were disallowed from utilizing the facilities of the venues they performed at. Dorothy Dandridge was not exempt from this law.
An outstanding actress and singer, Dorothy fostered a promising career. Although her talent and fame were comparable to Marilyn Monroe’s, she was snubbed from several leading roles due to race. As a result, she had no choice but to accept roles that were exploitative of the African American struggle, including a part where she had to portray a slave. She refused this role.
Nevertheless, Dorothy obtained an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her performance in Carmen Jones (1954). She was the first Black woman to receive this nomination. black fashion icons black fashion icons
Dorothy’s fashion style embodied elegance and femininity. She was unafraid to show off her figure and was a trendsetter during her time. Her signature wear was an off-the-shoulder gown with tulle trim and beading on the bodice.
She’s a timeless representation of classic Black Hollywood.
Diana Ross (1944 -)
As a famed singer, actress, and style icon, Diana Ross is not struggling in the influence department. Being one-third of the 1960s trio The Supremes, she introduced us to hits like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Stop in the Name of Love.”
Diana entered the acting world through her leading role in Lady Sings the Blues (1972) as Billie Holiday. From which she received an Academy Award Nomination for Best Actress. That same year, she portrayed Dorothy in the musical classic The Wiz (1972) – one of my favorite movie performances.
If you look up 70s disco glamour in the dictionary, Diana Ross’s lovely picture will be right there. Her style is 100% disco chic. I imagine her wardrobe is jam-packed with sequin gowns, fur coats, and plunging neckline blouses. And of course, her hair is as tremendous as her stardom.
Ms. Ross is my favorite style icon of all time. In third grade, for Black History Month, we had to dress as influential black figures. I whipped out my afro pick and baby blue platform boots and costumed as Diana.
Donyale Luna (1945 - 1979)
Donyale Luna was born in 1945 in Detroit. According to her family and friends, Donyale was an eccentric girl, often making up fantasies about herself and her private life.
She moved to Manhattan to pursue modeling soon after the Civil Rights Bill had passed. Although she had no plan in tote, the move paid off considerably. Just a few months later, she began working with editorial photographer Richard Avedon.
At the ripe age of 20, Donyale became quite the modeling sensation in Europe. In 1966, Time magazine even composed a story raving about her star power called The Lunar Year. Also that year, she became the first Black model to grace the cover of British Vogue.
A majestic personality in the fashion world, Donyale’s aesthetic is the essence of haute couture; she departed too soon from this world.
Donna Summer (1948 - 2012)
Donna is a 70s Black fashion icon to the fullest and one of the greatest of her time. Sporting gargantuan hair with an iconic curly bang and flamboyant fit, she never ceased to serve us looks and vocals. If we get a biopic of her life, I need Kelly Rowland to step up to the plate.
If you love broadway, checkout Donna Summer The Musical. It’s a broadway production all about the life of Donna.
Grace Jones (1948 -)
Jamaican-born model, singer, and actress Grace Jones is best known for her androgynous look and deep skin tone. Working with large couture houses like Yves St. Laurent, Grace quickly became an incredibly sought after high fashion model.
In the 1980s, she moved away from modeling and undertook acting, performing in films like Conan the Destroyer and Boomerang. She even had a reasonably successful music career by combining genres like disco, punk, reggae, and pop to create her own incomparable sound.
Grace Jones is a beautiful dark skin gender-nonconforming model who is unafraid to be her authentic self. Her fashion choices were avant-garde, camp, and androgynous. She always rocks a shaved head or the classic box style.
Many have tried to replicate her prowess but none have truly been able to outshine the original.
Iman (1955 -)
Iman was discovered by American photographer Peter Beard while studying political science at the University of Nairobi in 1975. Shortly after, she moved to the States to embark on a career in modeling. And what a fruitful career it would be.
About a year after moving, Iman received her first assignment for the cover of Vogue. Throughout her career, she worked with fashion powerhouses like Versace and Yves Saint-Laurent. Undeniably, she was the muse of the fashion world.
Iman has left a huge impression on the fashion and beauty industry. Both through her legacy of brands and as a high fashion runway model.
In 1994, she founded Iman Cosmetics. Today, the longstanding brand promotes itself as “Makeup for Women of Color.” Afterward, in 2007, she partnered with HSN to establish the Iman Global Chic fashion line — one of the network’s best-selling labels.
Janet Jackson (1966 -)
Listen, the younger generation doesn’t understand the presence that is Janet Jackson. She’s the youngest sister of singer Michael Jackson and a deeply admired singer, actress, and dancer.
Her most recognizable melodies come from her self-titled album Janet — featuring bops like “Anytime, Anyplace” and “That’s the Way Love Goes.” This album completely transformed her public image; effectively, it reinvented her as a sex symbol. Apart from her flourishing music career, she also starred as Justice in the film Poetic Justice.
What hasn’t Janet impacted? From pop culture to fashion, she’s the ultimate influencer. Janet has inspired celebrities like Rihanna, Aaliyah, and Beyoncé through her performances, music, fashion, and stage presence. Do you know who made the box braid trend skyrocket in the 90s? Janet.
Lil' Kim (1974 -)
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Kimberley Jones is a distinguished lyricist, songwriter, and model. Following the rise of Junior M.A.F.I.A., Kimberley adopted her famous stage name Lil’ Kim.
Thanks to her feature on “Lady Marmalade“, alongside Christina Aguilera, Pink, and Mýa, she was the first female rapper to have a number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Other honors include winner of the 2018 Power of Influence Award at New York City Hall and her presence on the Top 50 Greatest MCs of All Time list.
Lil’ Kim is known not only for her iconic lyricism but her provocative and feminine fashion statements. She completely transformed how female rap artists carry themselves through her expression of fashion, often wearing colorful wigs and luxury clothing brands.
She doesn’t fear rocking bold colors, nor showing off her petite frame. Lil’ Kim has become a tremendous icon in pop-culture fashion. Notable personalities like Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé, and Cardi B have all paid homage to the original Queen Bee by replicating her looks.
What Black fashion icons have inspired you? Tell me below!