Black Excellence: Fashion that Prevails

Fashion model


January 21, 2020


Location: Human Ecology Building, Level T Display Cases

Two models in designs by Simone Sulllivan

Designs by Simone Sullivan and photo by Devena Smith.

Ithaca, N.Y. – A new fashion exhibition, Black Excellence: Fashion that Prevails, will feature items designed by influential Black style tastemakers, influencers, and artists.

The exhibit, organized through the Cornell Costume & Textile Collection, will open in the College of Human Ecology on February 12, 2020. Curated by graduate student Sian Brown MA ‘20, Black Excellence showcases the power to prevail through fashion. “A design sensibility rooted in our African heritage is embodied through the strength of ongoing resistance, resilience, and creative intervention,” said Brown.

Brown interviewed Black fashion designers in North America about their experiences in the industry, including their struggles, triumphs, and joys. Her research findings are conveyed through Black Excellence, which explores fashion design as a site where Black culture, dress, and identity are negotiated and produced.

Kente cloth power suit

Silk screen printed interpretation of kente cloth, designed into a skirt suit by Patrick Kelly for his 1987 collection. On loan from the Smith College Historic Clothing Collection. Photo by Grace Anderson.

Bad boy jersey

BadBoy jersey designed by Guy Wood for the brand 5001Flavors. Worn by rapper Notorious B.I.G for the 1994 “Juicy” Music Video. Photo by Grace Anderson.

“The power to prevail is seen in the way the Black community uses dress and design to identify and express,” Brown said. “The ever-changing and ever-present will to adorn is exhibited through distinctive style–even during the most difficult of circumstances–which reveals the poise and stature of Black culture.”

Distinctive styles movements such as Black is beautiful, soul style, hip hop, and streetwear have impacted the culture as a whole. These movements are represented in Black Excellence.

“Our heritage comes from inclusion because we have always been excluded,” said Jerome Lamaar, also known as the “Style Monk,” a designer featured in the exhibition who is a multifaceted entrepreneur, trend setter, artist, and visionary. Lamaar believes the industry is changing. “We are at a point in the industry where people are starting to notice African Americans as African American designers. I say that as something that is to be proud of!”

Sequined evening gown

Emerald paillette dress designed by C.D. Greene. Photo by Grace Anderson.

Power suit

Power Suit designed by Sharufa Rashied – Walker for the brand Jinaki. Jinaki means self-confident and proud in Kiswahili. Photo by Grace Anderson

The exhibition is organized thematically around the influences of African heritage, entertainment, and education. Through this, Brown’s hope, “is to empower current and future Black designers by sharing their stories and to demonstrate how clothing can embody Black style by exemplifying strength.”

Featured items in the exhibit include: a screen printed kente dress and jacket designed by Patrick Kelly in 1987; a contemporary maximal street glamour designs by Jerome Lamaar; a “Power Suit” designed by Sharufa Rasheid – Walker for her brand Jinaki; a contemporary dress inspired by the Victorian era and Afrocentrism designed by Belania Daley of BCD Planet; a blue business suit designed by Ruby Douglas ’72 worn as office attire; a paillette evening gown designed by C.D Greene; evening gowns from Beulah Cooley for her brand Beulah Cooley Collections; an ensemble designed by Dr. Tameka Ellington of Kent State University that is inspired by Nyangatom women; a wool cowl neck dress designed by Dr. Farrell Doss  of Radford University; a kente print button-down designed by Carl Jones and TJ Walker for the brand Cross Colours; jerseys worn by rappers Notorious B.I.G also known as “Biggie,” Sean Combs, also known as “Diddy’ or “Puff Daddy”, and Tupac, all designed by Guy Wood who works with his wife, Sharene Wood, to run their business 5001 Flavors and award-winning boutique Harlem Haberdashery.

Overalls and Air Jordans

MCM overalls and custom Air Jordans designed by Misa Hylton. Ensemble worn by Grammy award winning performing artist H.E.R. (Gabriella Wilson) to the 2019 Global Citizens Festival. Photo by Grace Anderson.

The exhibition will be displayed on Level T of the Human Ecology Building, February 12, 2020 – May 26, 2020. The opening reception will take place on February 12, 2020 from 4:30 – 5:30 pm with remarks by curator, Sian Brown MA ’20 at 4:45 pm. Light refreshments will be served.


Black Excellence: Fashion that Prevails

Dates: February 12, 2020 – May 26, 2020

Location: Level T, College of Human Ecology Bldg., Cornell University central campus, Ithaca, NY 14853

Hours: 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. on weekdays, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. on weekends when Cornell University is in session. Free and open to the public.

Funding: Charlotte A. Jirousek Research Fellowship, funded by Laura Bowman Gray and Philip Lempert. Additional support from the College of Human Ecology, Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design, and the Cornell Costume & Textile Collection.


Social media: Facebook: @cornellcostume Instagram: @cornellcostumecollection

#Blackexcellence #fashionthatprevails




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