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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Viewed: Black Fashion Museum

Many times your passion is enough to fuel your dream...

Lois Alexander Lane - courtesy of Of Another Fashion
Lois Alexander Lane, founded, curated and kept on life support for almost 30 years the Black Fashion Museum. The modest monument to African American creativity first opened its doors in 1979 in an unremarkable Harlem brownstone. In 1994, it relocated to Washington. And among its most resonant artifacts are garments created by slaves, by famed dressmakers Ann Lowe and Rosa Parks, contemporary designers Stephen Burrows and Geoffrey Holder and countless anonymous seamstresses. Black history -- American history -- stitched out of cotton and lace. (Washington Post)

Ms. Alexander Lane, who founded both the Harlem Institute of Fashion (c.1966) and the Black Fashion Museum (c.1979) made major contributions to the legacy of African-Americans in the fashion and design fields.  She also published a book entitled Blacks in the History of Fashion in 1982.  Until the time of her of her death, she exposed more than 25,000 visitors to Black design with a cultural context.
Black Fashion Museum.  Courtesy of Harlem Bespoke
Harlem Institute of Fashion.  Courtesy of Harlem Bespoke
Now the collection has found a new home.  Previously housed in a two-story row house on Vermont Avenue in Washington, D.C., the Black Fashion Museum Collection comprises more than 700 garments, 300 accessories, and 60 boxes of archival material collected by Alexander-Lane throughout her life. In 2007, Alexander-Lane's daughter, Joyce Bailey, donated the Black Fashion Museum's entire holdings to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The research collection—one of the largest and rarest of its kind—includes a dress sewn by Rosa Parks shortly before her famous arrest in Montgomery, Ala.; a beige-patterned skirt worn by an enslaved child in Leesburg, Va.; the original Tin Man costume designed by Geoffrey Holder for the 1975 Broadway musical, The Wiz and a replica of the inaugural gown created for Mary Todd Lincoln in 1865 by Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave. (NMAAHC)

Below are some of the highlights from the extensive collection:
Rosa Parks Dress.  Gift of the Black Fashion Museum founded by Lois K. Alexander-Lane
Though Rosa Parks is best known for her role as a civil-rights activist, the Alabama native also worked as a talented seamstress at the Montgomery Fair Department Store. She was on her way home from work on December 1, 1955, when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. That very day, she had been sewing the dress above.
Ann Lowe Debutante Ball Gown.  Gift of the Black Fashion Museum founded by Lois K. Alexander-Lane
Created in 1958, this debutante gown was just one of more than 2,000 one-of-a-kind wedding and coming-out dresses created by pioneering African American designer Ann Lowe in the 1950s and 60s. Born in Alabama in 1898 as the grandchild of a former slave, Lowe earned the moniker "Dean of American Designers" for her delicate handwork and signature flowers, and counted among her patrons Jacqueline Bouvier, who commissioned Lowe to make the gown she wore when she married John F. Kennedy.
Glinda the Good Witch of the South Costume from "The Wiz".  Gift of the Black Fashion Museum founded by Lois K. Alexander-Lane.  Image Courtesy Don Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution
Designed by director and choreographer Geoffrey Holder, this costume was worn by two-time Grammy winner Dee Dee Bridgewater in her role as Glinda the Good Witch of the South in the original 1975 Broadway production of The Wiz. The musical, which won seven Tony awards, re-imagines L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from an African American viewpoint.


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