Touch of Brown: How Stephen Burrows Made His Mark One Stitch At a Time

By Isaac Breese

Twitter: @pinsandlapels

Instagram: @pinsandlapels

Although Black History month came to an end, in no means should we forget about our history. If you’ve been following us you know that we like to highlight modern day celebs of color who are making waves in the fashion world. However, we want to highlight influential people of color from the past who have made their mark in fashion and who are still having an impact on the fashion industry. As people of color it is important to know our history; and while many love to talk of notable greats such as W.E.B Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman etc, it is also important that we acknowledge those who were trailblazers in areas that may have been overlooked (fashion). So we want to pay homage to those who paved the way for self-expression and style with a touch of brown. First on our list is Stephen Burrows.

Famous for his signature “lettuce hems”, flowing chiffons and remarkably exaggerated stitching, Stephen Burrows is one of the most talented African American designers to ever grace the fashion industry. On September 15 1943 in Newark, NJ the legend would be born to parents Ferald Burrows and Octavia Pennington. While still an adolescent, Borrows tried his hand as a fashion designer as he started making clothes with the help of his grandmother, Beatrice Simmons. After graduating from school he would attend the Philadelphia Museum College of Art but would later finish his college career in 1966 at one of the most prestigious fashion universities in the America; Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

In 1968 he co-founded O Boutique in New York City. A year later he launched a ready-to-wear collection with Roz Rubenstein for a high end department store by the name Bonwit Teller which was one of the most notable women’s clothing stores in the city of NY. Eventually, he would be hired by Geraldine Stutz, president of Henri Bendel, who offered him his own boutique called Stephen Burrow’s World. This boutique would soon enable the success of his career allowing him to service clients such as Diana Ross, Cher and Barbra Streisand.

Photo from WSGN Insider

In 1973 Burrows was invited to show off his collections on the runways of Versailles, France and become the first African American designer to gain international attention. Shortly afterwards he would reopen the Stephen Burrow’s World boutique where he gained his claim to fame while also going on to design a collection for Target and opening a showroom and design studio in NYC’s garment center. During his illustrious career Burrows has been known to be creator of the technique “color-blocking” and distinguished “lettuce hems”.

Photo from Vintage Traveler

Over the years he has been awarded three Coty American Fashion Critics’ Awards (highest award in fashion), the Council of American Fashion Critics Award, and the Knitted Association of Crystal Ball Award. In addition, he was also inducted into the Fashion Walk of Fame in 2003, was honored with the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Board of Directors Special Tribute Award in 2006 and in 2014 received lifetime achievement awards from the Savannah College of Art and Design and the Pratt Institute of Design. About three years ago he tried getting back in the spotlight by creating a collection of reissued classic pieces. This failed however due to his inability to raise money on Kickstarter which he needed to rent out a studio and cover production costs.

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