With headline-making missteps at Prada, Gucci, and Burberry—all of which have recently caused offense by using symbols black customers find deeply painful—it’s vital now more than ever to be well-versed in black history, and to laud the talents who are making an impact today. From visionary designers and architects to game-changing culinarians and winemakers, there’s hardly a corner of the luxury space that hasn’t been changed by the contributions from black creatives and tastemakers. Whether its chef Marcus Samuelsson kicking off an ongoing Black History Month dinner series at The Red Rooster in Harlem or curator Rujeko Hockley co-organizing this year’s Whitney Biennial, the projects and people below demonstrate that recognizing the achievements of people of color should rightfully extend far beyond February. So, as Black History Month comes to a close, we highlight 11 black visionaries who are changing the luxury space right now.
Dapper Dan, Designer
Daniel Day—the Harlem-based designer known as Dapper Dan—was a household name long before Instagram and street style dominated the fashion industry. His commitment to his even more famous neighborhood sits at the root of the singularly luxurious streetwear he’s known for. “The first time I got some money, I bought me a brownstone in Harlem,” he said at a recent Macy’s event hosted by the organization Harlem’s Fashion Row. “I’ve been in Harlem all my life, and I’m not going nowhere.”
In his long career, the 74-year-old designer has created original clothing for everyone from Mike Tyson to LL Cool J. And since 2018, he’s been at the helm of a bespoke atelier run in partnership with Gucci (a partnership born out of back-and-forth copycatting between the designer and the Italian luxury house); it’s the first store any luxury brand has opened in Harlem.
That put him in the unique position of counseling the brand’s president and CEO Marco Bizzarri recently, when Gucci sparked controversy with a balaclava sweater that no shortage of observers decried as blackface in knitwear. “There cannot be inclusivity without accountability,” he said in a statement. “I will hold everyone accountable.” The results have been positive and meaningful. Bizzarri has committed to implementing a four-part initiative to promote diversity and inclusion at Gucci that will create opportunities for a new generation of black designers. And that may be the most important legacy Dapper Dan leaves behind.
Theaster Gates Jr., Artist and New Prada Diversity and Inclusion Co-Director
After a recent blackface scandal of its own in which the company was called out for its blackface window figurines, Prada asked the artist Theaster Gates Jr. to lead a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council alongside director Ava DuVernay. The group’s long-term goals include hiring more diverse young employees and interns and offering scholarships and training, just to name a few. Gates has worked with the brand in various capacities (mostly on past exhibitions at the Fondazione Prada), and as the founder and executive director of Chicago’s Rebuild Foundation, Gates is used to working on creative projects that create a measurable and direct impact on overlooked groups. From supporting artists and the local workforce via Dorchester Industries to helping the Second City’s affordable housing efforts, Gates’ collaborative projects have enriched the black community in lasting ways.
Davidson Petit-Frère, Designer
Earlier this month, WWD reported that Musika Frère, the bespoke suiting brand that counted everyone from Jay-Z to to Diddy to Nick Jonas as clients, would shutter. But in its place, its co-founder Davidson Petit-Frère has already established a new ready-to-wear brand, simply called Frère. “With Frère, we’re expanding into ready-to-wear and accessories with worldwide expansion as a goal,” Frère told Robb Report. The 29-year-old designer has the talent and chops to take the brand around the world—last year, Forbes named him to its annual 30 Under 30 list—but it doesn’t hurt that he counts some of the biggest names in entertainment as fans. “The support of black designers will only inspire the next generation to continue the legacy we are all working on building today,” he added.
Rujeko Hockley, Curator
As a co-organizer of The Whitney Biennial, which will run from May 17 to Sept. 22, 2019, Rujeko Hockley will be tasked with unpacking the American experience within contemporary art—a role she’s been training for. She’s been an assistant curator at The Whitney since 2017, where she’s staged conversation-starting exhibits that explore protest and identity. Before she joined The Whitney, Hockley was with The Brooklyn Museum, where she co-curated an exhibit of art made by black women entitled “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85.” “We wanted to show that black women are not outsiders to the art world or to the feminist movement—we are right in the middle of it, being hosts and not guests,” she said in an interview with the clothing brand MM.LaFleur. A native of Zimbabwe, Hockley’s uniquely global perspective on the black experience was shaped by living in Barbados, Somalia, and the United States.
Kimberly Drew, Former Social Media Manager at The Met and New Fashion Week Model
If you don’t follow the Instagram account @museummammy, you should change that. With nearly a quarter million followers on that platform and a Tumblr chronicling black contemporary artists that has its own loyal fanbase, curator Kimberly Drew’s online presence and influence beyond the digital space cannot be ignored. As the former social media manager for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Drew helped shaped the esteemed institution’s digital presence. Although she’s focusing more on writing these days, Drew is still involved and visible in the creative space. She was recently profiled in The New York Times, and even modeled in Chromat’s New York Fashion Week show earlier this month.
ARCHITECTURE & DESIGN
Sir David Adjaye, Architect
Sir David Adjaye’s visionary work had already had a massive impact before he was named as the architect for the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The $540 million building has been visited by thousands since opening in 2016, and it can’t have hurt Queen Elizabeth II’s decision to knight him in 2017.
Childhood travels with his diplomat father to Egypt, Mali, and Japan have served as inspirations for many of his projects. His recent luxury residential project in NYC’s Financial District at 130 William Street unites the old with the new through the textured exterior and warm charm and is crowned by a 7,000 square-foot penthouse. As a global creative, Adjaye’s reach is far, whether it be a skyscraper or a museum peeking through the clouds.
Ron Woodson, Designer
Ron Woodson’s interior design aesthetic centers around the carefree eclecticism of living in California. His work with partner Jamie Rummerfield at Woodson & Rummerfield’s House of Design includes everything from animal-hide upholstery to an epic crystal chandelier hanging in the center of a sumptuous bathroom. This fearless approach to design has not gone unrecognized, with The Hollywood Reporter including their firm on its list of Hollywood’s Top 20 Interior Designers in 2015. His clients have included Christina Aguilera, John Travolta, and Courtney Love. Beyond interior design, Woodson and Rummerfield aim to salvage noteworthy architecture through their non-profit, Save Iconic Architecture.
Erwin T. Raphael, General Manager of Genesis
After over 25 years in the automotive industry, Erwin T. Raphael—the chief operating officer and vice president of the young car company Genesis—knows what people are looking for in a luxury car. In the past three years, Raphael has helped Hyundai’s young marque grow by leaps and bounds, from a virtual unknown to winning MotorTrend‘s Car of the Year (with the G70), along with multiple awards for safety, design, and value.
Although he’s witnessed the automotive industry become more inclusive, he believes that progress still needs to be made within leadership roles. “However, there are certainly still opportunities to further improve, particularly with respect to women and visible multi-cultural personnel in positions of leadership,” Raphael told Robb Report. So whether it’s inclusive Genesis advertising or encouraging more representation within leadership, Raphael is ready for Genesis to encourage the race toward progress.
FOOD & DRINK
Marcus Samuelsson, Chef and Restauranteur
Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurants and properties reach from Stockholm to Harlem. His culinary empire mirrors both his success and his upbringing. Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, Samuelsson fuses a variety of influences into his menus, demonstrating how adaptable and popular African cuisine can be across the globe.
At the Red Rooster in Harlem, he’s starting a new Dinner Series on February 27 that’s named for Fanny, one of Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved chefs, and master distiller Nathan “Nearest” Green. The aim? To celebrate the unsung diversity that has existed for centuries in the culinary world.
“It’s taken a long time, but it’s changing for the better and I think really the African American experience has been the core driver of that,” Samuelsson said of this growing recognition. “It goes back to the civil rights movement, especially in hospitality because so much of the African American craft was in that space. Fanny [and] Edith and Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green are great examples of that.”
Krista Scruggs, Natural Winemaker
“No fining, filtering, additives, or funny business in the winery,” the Zafa Wines website openly states. The brainchild of Krista Scruggs, a queer woman of color, Zafa specializes in a natural, no-nonsense, old-world approach to winemaking. She even stomps the grapes with her feet to ensure the right flavor. And serving wine made with traditional methods to a new generation is definitely working: Scruggs was named to Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40 Tastemaker list in 2018.
Scruggs has been honing her craft for years, and has risen from working as a shipping coordinator for Constellation Brands to being a vigneronne and winemaker in Vermont. Zafa Wines may be in its infancy, but its buzz is so vibrant that serving a bottle or three at your next dinner party is a clear signal to your oenophile friends that you’re way ahead of the curve.
Ghetto Gastro, Chef Collective
Though the founders of Bronx-based culinary collective Ghetto Gastro have an impressive Rolodex of clients (Virgil Abloh, Rick Owens, Instagram, and Nike just to name a few), they’re prioritizing their local community with a new headquarters, Labyrinth 1.1, according to a Wall Street Journal profile. The group, which consists of three chefs (Malcolm Livingston II, Pierre Serrao, and Lester Walker) and a CEO (Jon Gray) are mostly Bronx-natives, which helps bring an authenticity to their approach when connecting with the community.
Branching outside of food, Ghetto Gastro is also delving into merch for Black History Month, featuring a collaboration with streetwear brand Awake NY, in which a portion of the proceeds will benefit South Bronx charities.