By Shalaka Vaze
This Black History Month, it is important for the fashion-minded to learn about how Black talent is changing the fashion game and having a positive impact on the future of fashion. Although in recent years the New York side of the industry has made a better effort to prioritise diversity, Black designers have notoriously always had a different struggle entering the fashion industry. Julee Wilson writing for ‘Business of Fashion’ has rightly noted that to be labelled as a ‘Black designer’ is often with the societal expectation that Black culture has to be left behind in order to distinguish ‘luxury designers’ from ‘urban fashion’. In reality, Black culture has had a massive influence over streetwear and has been a source of inspiration for many designers over past decades.
For this edition of Style Icon, LaQuan Smith is the Black designer that you need to know about - if you didn’t already! Rejected by both Parsons and FIT, LaQuan Smith previously attended events pretending to be an editor to create a name for himself. Smith’s namesake brand has now been in business for more than 10 years, and has created custom designs for celebrities such as Beyoncé and Rihanna. When attending fashion shows, it is customary for guests to honour the designer of a collection by wearing their clothes – but Kim Kardashian made headlines internationally, choosing to wear LaQuan Smith to a Tom Ford show.
Smith’s 3rd collection at New York Fashion Week (made on the sewing machine gifted to him by his grandmother at age 12) is titled ‘A Story Book Path’. Guests included Vogue US editor-at-large André Leon Talley and Diane von Furstenberg, with Serena Williams modelling the final look. It was a collection inspired by classic queens in history such as Marie Antoinette and Elizabeth I, as well as ‘boujee’ characters like Cruella De Vil. Big hair, golden lipstick, bustier tops and voluminous skirts in baroque gold-finished material as well as black feathers and beading were the main features of this early collection.
Fast-forward 9 years, Smith has just sold out his recent AW20 collection during the current pandemic. Now this is no small feat considering the only clothes that have been in demand have been leisure and sports clothes – and whilst LaQuan Smith’s clothes could be described as luxe-streetwear, they are also clothes that (if I owned them) I would want to show off in true streetwear fashion!
LaQuan Smith’s collections have a seductive quality. Looking and feeling powerful in your femininity is something always in high demand. For this reason, I am always astounded at each New York Fashion Week by how innovatively Smith presents this same essence in a new, innovative way. This magnetism has become the signature of Smith’s brand. Most recently, Smith released his SS21 collection online, as did most other designers this fashion month in order to keep safe, and it was bigger and brighter than ever. Inspired by his grandfather’s baby blue Cadillac and the 70s American trend of customising Cadillacs -which were as important in the disco era as the clothes themselves – Smith used the idea of new money and everything associated to produce his collection.
What resulted was an incredible collection of petrol and baby blues, mints, turquoises, bright orange and magenta, with sexy cut-outs and corsets made in silks and leather. Bustier tops are still appearing in Smith’s work, and he has undoubtedly kept a signature essence which is just as eye-catching as his Story Book collection all those years ago. In my opinion, understanding what women want in the 21st century is key to success in womenswear, and by this measure, LaQuan Smith is going to be here for a very long time to come.