New York Fashion Week: How Black Designers Stole the Show

NEW YORK — Thursday marked the end of New York Fashion Week (NYFW) Spring/Summer 2023. Apart the legendary afterpartiesthe real lifethe devil wears Prada“moments and celebrity sightings, the week-long series of events is hheralded as the big fashion scene. NYFW flags the styles and silhouettes that will dominate retail shelves in the coming months, and designers work their way to the top to showcase their collections to shoppers, press and fashion enthusiasts.

The official schedule started on September 1. 7, featuring Christian Siriano’s show at Elizabeth Taylor’s former townhouse and an appearance by pop icon Janet Jackson. With the help of rapper Saucy Santana and “Me & U” singer Cassie, The Blonds closed out the week with a bang. NYFW’s commercialism, exclusivity, and fanfare can be appealing to the human eye, but sometimes there’s a lot left to be desired. What’s unseen is the continued lack of plus-size models on the catwalks, the incessant emails the days before, and the general fatigue from frantically moving from place to place.

But the stories designers tell with their fashion lines and the feelings their clothes evoke keep me coming back every season. As a teenager, I watched models walk the catwalks of New York Fashion Week from home on my laptop. Of the seven shows I attended this season, some labels attempted to reinvent the proverbial wheel, while others seemingly lost the plot. Still, the skill, vibe, and cohesive visions of Felicia Noel, Sergio Hudson, and Jason Rembert were the highlights of my week. To me, it’s no surprise that black designers have taken the cake this season.

A model walks the runway at the Fe Noel fashion show in September 2022 New York Fashion Week: The Shows on September 29, 2022. 09, 2022 in New York City.
A model walks the runway at the Fe Noel fashion show in September 2022 New York Fashion Week: The Shows on September 29, 2022. 09, 2022 in New York City.

Arturo Holmes via Getty Images

FAITH CHRISTMAS

This season, the American Grenadine designer Felicia Noel unveiled her “Wish You Were Here” collection. In 25 pieces, the Brooklyn-based designer showcased a range of colors, from plum purple to chocolate brown to teal, and used a variety of techniques from ruching to fine floral embroidery.

Whimsical, romantic and feminine, Fe Noel’s Spring-Summer 2023 collection plays on the softness, movement and breadth of human emotion. Characterized as “three-part duality” by the show’s notes, the collection sought to capture “the feelings of being both carefree and buttoned up, fearless and cautious” as it shifted from muted to dark to light tones. A tribute to a woman’s ever-changing journey, Fe Noel’s structured blazers and pantsuits pair perfectly with feminine babydolls and dresses. With a runway soundtrack that included Louis Armstrong and Etta James, the desire for the aptly named collection was evident.

The final breathtaking piece was a 16ft train couture dress titled “Dre$$”. Made from fake paper money, it symbolizes the $1.6 million women are losing in retirement savings due to the pay gap. “By partnering with TIAA,” Noel wrote, “the collective goal is to close the gap and #RetireInequality for good.”

A model walks the runway during the Sergio Hudson show during New York Fashion Week: The Shows on September 29, 2019. October 10, 2022 in New York City.
A model walks the runway during the Sergio Hudson show during New York Fashion Week: The Shows on September 29, 2019. October 10, 2022 in New York City.

John Lamparski via Getty Images

SERGIO HUDSON

Sergio Hudson’s 10 collection was vibrant, sharp and sexy. Having styled both former First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris, Hudson is the king of blazers and belts. Her ability to turn seemingly tired business attire into a spectacle is remarkable. A master of jewel tones, I’ve incorporated eye-catching colors such as terracotta, fuschia and cobalt blue into this collection, as well as unique twists on classic black and white stripe and polka dot prints.

Hudson’s Spring ’23 collection played with texture, incorporating velvet, suede and leather in various cuts and crevices. The 10 collection included jumpsuits with peekaboo cutouts, sleek dress silhouettes and sharp structure in blazers – designed with the aim of empowering women. “I wanted to do something beautiful, bold, and overtly glamorous and sexy, while still maintaining a clean, modern feel,” Hudson said in a press release. With sequins, animal prints and big tangled hair, the show was an ode to drama in the best way.

In the footsteps of his model mother, Aoki Lee Simmons made her NYFW debut walking the show, alongside names like Winnie Harlow, Leomie Anderson, Maria Borges and more. With fashion legends Misa Hylton and Bethann Hardison in the audience, there’s really nothing quite like seeing a Southern black designer’s vision come to life.

A model walks the runway during the Aliette fashion show during New York Fashion Week on September 29, 2019. February 14, 2022 in New York City.
A model walks the runway during the Aliette fashion show during New York Fashion Week on September 29, 2019. February 14, 2022 in New York City.

Jason Mendez via Getty Images

ALIETTE BY JASON REMBERT

On the last day of NYFW, when I needed an extra boost to succeed, the fashion gods saved the best for last. Held in the Georgia Room of the Freehand Hotel, stylist-turned-designer Jason Rembert delivered a stunning collection, filled with impressive construction and accompanied by upbeat music. (We need more “Knuck If You Buck” moments on the track, please, and thank you.)

Rembert, at the head of the label now for three years Aliette knows how to turn heads. Her Spring-Summer 2023 collection was the height of absolute glamour. The 30-piece collection ranged from vibrant greens to rosy pinks, bold turquoise and golden yellow; breathtaking embroidery paired with gorgeous feather skirts and tiered dresses was one of the many highlights of the show. At the entrance, guests received a white flower, a very literal version of the phrase “Give someone their flowers”.

In memory of his late mother, Rembert says Vogue, “What I’ve realized over the past 15, 20 years is that so many black women don’t know how dope they are.” With corsets and floral accents along the neckline and shoulders on various pieces, the collection is both feminine and playful. It was one of the rare instances where I found myself completely speechless and mesmerized while watching a show.