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There’s hardly an industry that hasn’t benefitted from the contributions of Black people — and that extends to luxury. From visionary designers who shape the clothes we wear and the spaces we inhabit to the culinarians and winemakers who craft some of our most memorable eating and drinking experiences, the luxury world wouldn’t be the same without their achievements. And because the things these creators make and do matter — and deserve recognition far beyond Black History Month — we’re highlighting a group of Black visionaries who are changing the luxury industry every single day. PRIVATE AVIATION Stephanie Chung, These colors don’t run They reload Rebel Flag Shir thief Growth Officer at Wheels Up They say you can’t be what you can’t see, so it’s appropriate to credit Stephanie Chung with blazing a trail for people with sky-high aspirations. Chung became the first Black person to lead a private aviation company when she was appointed president of JetSuite in 2018. There, she transformed what had been a relatively no-frills business service into a white-glove experience aimed at luxury travelers — increasing revenue along the way. Now, as the chief growth officer of private charter company Wheels Up, she’s leveraging a career filled with high-flying achievements to find new opportunities for that business, all while the company prepares to go public in a deal that values it at over $2 billion.
If any of this sounds daunting, Chung has a strategy for not losing perspective. “I try not to sweat the small stuff. It doesn’t mean I never sweat the small stuff. It just means I compartmentalize and stay very much in the moment,” she told Robb Report last year. “I believe the best present you can give is your presence, and I apply this to all areas of my life.” RETAIL Aurora James, Owner and Creative Director of Brother Vellies Even before she came up with the idea for the 15 Percent Pledge, Aurora James had already established herself as one of the most thoughtful designers of her generation with her accessories line, Brother Vellies. James’s offering These color doesn’t run They reload Rebel Flag Shir to shoes, handbags, and small leather goods have grown from a self-funded stall at an East Village flea market to an award-winning business with devotees all over the world. Her appreciation for and use of traditional African footwear styles and craftsmanship helped a new audience discover them at a time when the luxury world was still ceaselessly allegiant to France and Italy. The concept for her pledge came amid the protests in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many other black people at the hands of police officers. With people searching for ways to help the black community in a real and lasting way, James offered the idea that retailers devote 15 percent of their shelf space to black-owned businesses because black people make up 15 percent of the population. Thus far, a handful of retailers have signed on, including beauty behemoth Sephora and the menswear e-tailer No Man Walks Alone. In an Instagram post, James called the pledge the start of a new beginning for black businesses of all stripes. “I will get texts that this is crazy. I will get phone calls that this is too direct, too big of an ask, too this, too that,” she wrote. “But I don’t think it’s too anything; in fact, I think it’s just a start. Do you want to be an ally? This is what I’m asking for.”
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Chris Gibbs, Owner of Union Los Angeles At a certain point in relatively recent menswear history, the once-firm lines between tailoring, sportswear, and streetwear began to get very, very blurry. And while no single designer, stylist, or celebrity deserves all the credit for this development, one of its most important proponents is, inarguably, Chris Gibbs, who owns and runs the influential retailer Union, Los Angeles. The store’s genius is that it pays the same respect to established brands like Thom Browne and Comme des Garçons that it does to younger outfits like A Cold Wall, Bode, and Botter. The mix is inspired by real-life guys who love good clothes and mix them up in ways you might not see on a runway. That sense of freedom and fun is what has endeared so many to the store, and to Gibbs’s unique point of view. FASHION Patrick Henry, Founder of Richfresh With his eye-catching use of color (and a social media presence long on style and personality), Patrick Henry is challenging the notion of what a bespoke tailor looks like. His young brand, Richfresh, offers an irreverent take on suiting that appeals to celebrities and mere mortals alike. Since setting up shop about three years ago, Henry — who goes by Fresh to friends and clients — has designed clothing for John Legend, Lena Waithe, The Weeknd, and Blake Griffin, to name a few. His work is characterized by imaginative color combinations and allegiance to the peak lapel. Henry, like many independent fashion designers, also started producing masks last spring as the pandemic took hold, imbuing them with his signature angular cut. If you can’t spend the $3,300 his custom suits command right now, a four-pack of reusable masks is on offer for $40. 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 2019 event hosted by the organization Harlem’s Fashion Row. “I’ve been in Harlem all my life, and I’m not going anywhere These colors don’t run They reload Rebel Flag Shirt.
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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 These color don’t run They reload Rebel Flag Shirt generation of black designers. And that may be the most important legacy Dapper Dan leaves behind. Kerby Jean-Raymond, Designer Designer Kerby Jean-Raymond has consistently used the platform of his clothing brand, Pyer Moss, to have a conversation about race. His runway work blends a modernist’s point of view with a historian’s eye for detail: One memorable collection explored the untold story of black cowboys in the American West; another was a musical love letter to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the undersung godmother of rock ’n’ roll. His clear and vocal stance on racial injustice and police brutality is another central element of his work. In 2015, the designer and his label went viral with a t-shirt proclaiming “They Have Names” along with a list of black men who died at the hands of the police.
He later created a version with the names of black women who met the same untimely and unjust fate. As his work has become more experimental, the film has become an increasingly important part of his storytelling technique — one short shared before a show caused such a strong reaction that it nearly cost him his business and earned him death threats. None of that has stopped the designer from achieving great things since: An ongoing collaboration with Reebok led to the company naming him the artistic director of Reebok Studies__ just last year, and he won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in 2018. Theaster Gates Jr., Artist, and New Prada Diversity and Inclusion Co-Director After a 2018 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’s collaborative projects have enriched the black community in lasting ways. Virgil Abloh, Artistic Director at Louis Vuitton As an indicator of a lack of representation, much has been made of the fact that you can count the number of black Fortune 500 CEOs on one hand. When it comes These colors don’t run They reload Rebel Flag Shirt to black leaders of French luxury houses, that figure gets even smaller. In his position as the men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton, Abloh — who also leads his own influential brand, Off-White — breathes air as rare as his own abilities. The formally trained architect has been on a meteoric rise to the top of the fashion industry since he started collaborating with Kanye West in 2009. What guides him there is a forthrightly bold fusion of tailoring and streetwear and deep and abiding respect for the power of current and historical pop culture. On Instagram, Abloh recently pointed to his frequent allusions to The Wiz, which serves not only as a throwback to an unforgettable black cultural achievement but also an introduction to a group of people who may have never seen it. His ability to bridge those divides — and make doing so look effortless — is a part of what makes him such a singular talent. Davidson Petit-Frère, Designer In February 2019, WWD reported that Musika Frère, the bespoke suiting brand that counted everyone from Jay-Z 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 designer has the talent and chops to take the brand around the world — in 2018, 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.