blackhistory month blog 11

Marsha Hunt (singer, model and novelist)

Marsha Hunt is best known as the poster child for the musical Hair as well as the mother of Mick Jagger’s first child Karis. Allegedly she was the inspiration behind the Rolling Stones hit “Brown Sugar” which she acknowledged in her 1985 auto biography “Real life.”

When Hunt came to live in Europe she found that people there called her an American, not an African-American or Black. She herself describes her skin color as “oak with a hint of maple”, and notes that “of the various races I know I comprise—African, American Indian, German Jew and Irish—only the African was acknowledged.” Hunt invented her own word to describe herself, based on the French word melange (mixture) and the word melanin: Melangian.

In 1991 Hunt said that there is a pain inflicted by the black community on itself, which it fears to communicate openly. She also says that living overseas for most of her life has made her a foreigner in the USA. She said, “I’m scared to walk through Harlem… more scared than you, because if I walked through Harlem with the weird shoes and the weird accent, I’d get my butt kicked faster than you. In a way, I’m the betrayer.”

Zelda Wynn Valdes. (June 28, 1905 – September 26, 2001)

(photo: Dorothy Dandridge in a dress designed by Zelda Wynn Valdes)

There’s not much information on Valdes but in the fashion industry, Valdes is considered a legend. She was the first African-American Fashion designer to open up her own shop on Broadway in 1948. Valdes outfitted many stars such as Joyce Bryant, Josephine Baker, Gladys Knight,  Sarah Vaughn, Dorothy Dandridge, Ella Fitzgerald and many more. Valdes later opened a store called “Chez Zelda”on 56th street. Zelda Wynn Valdes iscredited for designing the first Playboy Bunny uniforms  as well as the uniforms for the Dance Theater of Harlem.  Zelda Wynn Valdes also helped creat the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers

Elizabeth Keckly was known for the inaugural gown she designed for Mary Todd Lincoln,  president Abraham Lincoln’s Wife. This dress can be seen today at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. The wives of Robert E. Lee, Stephen Douglas, and Jefferson Davis were also known as Elizabets clients. A respected independent business woman, she strived towards the abolition of slavery through her well-connected Caucasian clients.

Willi Donnell Smith.

Smith was one of the most successful young fashion designers in fashion history. Smith studied commercial art at Mastbaum Technical High School and attended Philadelphia College of Art for Fashion Illustration. He later moved to New York City to attend Parsons School of Design. In 1967, Smith quit Parsons to pursue a designing career on his own. Smith designed a label for the sportswear company Digits in 1969. In 1976 he started his company called “Williwear.” At the time of Smith’s death, his company  Williwear Ltd. sold $25 million worth of clothing a year. Smith died unexpectedly at the young age of 39 on a trip to India.

Smith always wanted his clothes to utilize natural fibers, and he strove to keep his clothes affordable to the general public. “I don’t design clothes for the Queen, but for the people who wave at her as she goes by” said Smith, according to the New York Times.

I came from your typical black middle-class family, where every event called for an outfit,” Smith told Essence. Focusing on clothes also helped distract the family from their impoverished life in the Philadelphia projects. Smith’s mother would dress up frequently, never having any concern about the stares of onlookers when she was “overdressed” for an occasion. His father tended to wear oversized clothes, an influence that may have impacted Smith’s later design choices.