Just as Kamala Harris’ inauguration was a history-making moment in politics, so it was in fashion with Black designers behind the biggest looks of the occasion.
Harris, the first Black, South Asian, and woman vice president, wore a coat by Christopher John Rogers, a leading Black designer who won the 2020 CFDA Award for Womenswear Designer of the Year. Her heels were by Sergio Hudson, another talented Black designer who also dressed Michelle Obama in her head-to-toe burgundy ensemble for the presidential inauguration. (Rogers declined to comment; Hudson did not return requests for comment.)
On the eve of the inauguration at a tribute to those of have passed away from COVID-19, Vice President Harris wore a coat from Pyer Moss, a brand designed and owned by Haitian American designer Kerby Jean-Raymond. Jean-Raymond launched Pyer Moss in 2013, and he quickly became a darling of the American fashion industry, and through collaborating with Reebok where he is now global creative director, he would go on to become a household name.
In a statement after the inauguration Jean-Raymond told The Daily Beast, “Kamala’s stylist reached out the day after she was announced as Joe Biden’s running mate. We talked about several projects but always intended to be part of the inauguration. We made several options including dresses and accessories for Kamala and ultimately she chose this jacket which the stylist said is ‘the cat's meow.’
“I’ve been working with the costume designer and couturier Camilla Huey for a few years now. She’s been a constant in my life and part of my growth as a designer. She’s taught me how to achieve more difficult executions that I didn’t know how to do before. She was a part of creating my Sculpture for the MoMA and several of the Met Gala looks I created in 2019, some of which remain unseen publicly. We began working on a fairly ordinary jacket but we got approval to make some changes this week to incorporate some of our brand identity on the piece. The knife pleat is one of our favorite mainstays in our collections.”
The evening of the inauguration, Vice President Harris donned an all-black ensemble by Sergio Hudson, marking the designers third inauguration moment after the vice president wore his heels and Michelle Obama wore a full ensemble by him earlier that day. By the next morning, Hudson became one of the most googled fashion designers on the internet.
Black fashion designers hope that the exposure will ring in a new era for them as well.
Brooklyn-based fashion designer Aaron Potts, founder of APOTTS, a contemporary genderless brand, said, “When I saw Kamala make her entrance and descend those steps at the inauguration, it brought me to tears. What I felt was a sense of relief and a sense of connection. When I saw her up there, I saw my mom, my aunties, my mentors, and my friends. I felt hope for my goddaughters.
“I was reminded of the beauty, the brilliance, the ingenuity and the drive of all the amazing Black and Brown women that surround me. With President Biden, I sense a compassionate, evolved and intent man that, starting from day one, is working on a legacy of healing, fairness, and equality. Considering all of that, I think Black designers feel hopeful and invigorated.”
Who is the force behind Kamala Harris’ looks? It’s no secret that everyone is clamoring to dress her. For her much-discussed Vogue cover, Vice President Harris actually styled herself in pieces she owns, including a powder blue Michael Kors Collection suit and the black suit with her signature Converse that went viral.
Karla Welch, one of Hollywood’s biggest celebrity stylists, has been rumored to be working with Vice President Harris, but has declined all requests for comment on the matter.
The stylist behind FLOTUS Dr. Jill Biden’s choices is reported to be Bailey Moon. With Vice President Harris and former first lady Michelle Obama having worn Sergio Hudson, the hope is that the designer will soon be a choice for the current first lady as well.
Beyond the impact and representation Black designers are hoping from with the Biden administration, there is also a sense of relief as well. “This election is a definite shift, especially considering the horror of the last four years,” Potts said. “With the attention on police brutality and systemic racism, we are making inroads on addressing racism and privilege, which is embedded in the fibers and DNA of America.
“We are openly talking about sexuality and gender and demanding that everyone be treated as equal humans. We are addressing misogyny and the abuse of women. We are looking at how the economic system benefits the rich at a cost to the middle class and the poor. These are conversations that have been swept under the rug for far too long. It's about time that we face these issues.”
For Black designers hoping to gain more exposure on a national level, the Biden/Harris administration leaves them truly hopeful. Undra Celeste, founder and designer of Undra Celeste New York, said that, “Seeing so many designers of color dress key figures at the inauguration was amazing. We are experiencing growth and exposure that we haven't experienced before. So I think it's a special time to be a Black designer.”
She added that, “Although exposure does not pay bills, it does allow designers of color to be seen in the light they wish to be seen. The support and exposure right now are awesome—the gatekeepers have opened the gate. I believe if you're ready, you can show your brand to the world in the most organic way without much push back.”
Celeste hopes that with Dr. Jill Biden as first lady, the strides that Michelle Obama made for independent American designers will continue. “Michelle Obama started an initiative [for independent designers] when she was in the White House. I think Jill Biden will pick up the baton. One thing I think she can do is put together government programs that support American clothing manufacturing and the designer who supports it.
“Also, highlighting American fashion from all parts of America is so important. We all love Ralph Lauren, but he is not the only American designer. We come in all shades and cultures. I look forward to seeing what she does.”
For many Black designers, the exposure to drive sales is also needed, as many of them were hit hard by the pandemic with retail stores closed due to COVID-19. Many pivoted to producing masks and PPE, which helped them weather the worst period of the economic downturn.
As more Black designers are getting their due thanks to the inauguration, many Black fashion industry professionals are hoping this will not only help current designers, but also plant the seed for the next generation of talent.
“It’s incredibly exciting for brands such as Pyer Moss and Christopher John Rogers to dress Vice President Harris during such a history moment in history [it] adds immense visibility to these labels,” said fashion editor and writer Leah Faye Cooper. “I think it also serves as an inspiration to lesser-known designers and young people who want to pursue fashion design. Goals seem much more attainable when you see people who look like you are accomplishing them.”
Faye Cooper considers this the next step in fashion trying to resolve its racial inequality problem, that has long kept so many talented Black designers from reaching the success of their non-Black counterparts.
“Historically, fashion has been very insular, with very Black designers attaining a high level of success and visibility,” she said. “This exposure, added to the ongoing conversations surrounding race and equity, signal a shift towards a more inclusive industry.”