3/7/21 WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH
2/28/21 Black History Month
L'Tanya (left) modeling and (top) centered among fashionable peers
Iman, Sade, Beyonce, L’Tanya….L’Tanya? This unsung trailblazer is perhaps the first African American to be known by one name. Bernice L’Tanya Griffin was a rolling stone fashion designer during the 1940’s-50’s. Like many at the time, she served as a model for her creations and took them on the road doing fashion shows at churches, civic organizations, etc.. until she made a name for herself. Eventually she settled in Los Angeles and opened a dress and hat shop. There, L’Tanya built a celebrity following including Dorothy Dandridge, and was the first Black to have a Hollywood contract when she negotiated to make gowns for 20 films over a two year period with Edward D. Wood. A seemingly great opportunity turned into a chain of big flops by the enthusiastic, yet awful filmmaker. She disappeared into obscurity with a handful of over the top mentions in Jet Magazine about some of her other surprising and defiant endeavors.
Jet 1954 - L'Tanya went big and bold when she purchased Hattie McDaniels' mansion after her death. McDaniels was the first Black person to win an Oscar in1940 for her role in Gone with the Wind. It’s noted that L’Tanya imported flooring from Honolulu for her 500 guest housewarming.
Jet 1955 - L'Tanya “checked into the ritzy Waldorf-Astoria with 16 pieces of luggage, she was given the Presidential Suite, a four-room apartment that rents for $75 daily” (appx $730/night today). Segregation was in full effect. How did the persuasive and determined L’Tanya make this happen?
2/21/21 Black History Month
Although the last known chapter of NAFAD has been inactive since 2013, its reason for being is sadly still relevant today. During the last century, luxury and quality were not words equated with Black folks except within our own communities where strivers made it a point to always put their best foot and hat forward. Access to opportunities in fashion’s upper echelons has long hindered coveted artisans working in back rooms to progress in the industry, particularly in the luxury market. That lack of access became a self-defined opportunity and on April 22, 1949, the New York chapter of the National Association of Black Fashion and Accessories Designers was organized. Jeanetta Welch Brown partnered with Black women’s and social justice advocate Mary McCleod Bethune-Cookman to established the New York chapter of NAFAD with Brown as National President. Across the US, Black designers were already creating individual buzz around their own work. Now, as a collective, they were able to network, support, educate, and most importantly to enlighten their non-POC industry peers. Many of the Black fashion professionals were located in New York City, however most showed locally and regionally at churches and civic organizations. Many took their shows on the road for more exposure, sales and to help raise money to benefit African American causes. These were precursors to the iconic travelling show, Ebony Fashion Fair, in which milliners from NAFAD showed their work as well. One of note is Artie Wiggins.
2/21/21 Black History Month
Artie Wiggins was often mentioned in Johnson Publications’ Jet and Ebony magazines during the 1950’s and 60’s, also Chicago based, as well as New York Age. That said, her connection to their
Ebony Fashion Fair seems inevitable. During that time, Wiggins designed hats for the iconic travelling fashion show as well as others, authored booklets on hats and designed patterns for Hats
Magazine. Artie’s designs also found their way into print via her close friendship with the first African American female cartoonist, Jackie Ormes. Omes worked for
the Chicago Defender and Pittsburgh Courier newspapers and used Wiggins’ hat styles for the main character in her ‘Torchy’s Togs” paper dolls series. Sound
2/15/21 Black History Month
This story is even more enlightening for me because yesterday I learned that Ruth Carter, Oscar award winning costume designer for Black Panther, will be the first African American costumer to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame later this month. It’s said that the last costumer to have the honor was Edith Head in 1974.
Mildred Blount became interested in millinery after working at Madame Clair’s Dress and Hat Shop in NYC. She and her sister went on to open their own shop focusing on wealthy New Yorkers. Ms. Blount looked to the past for inspiration and found that that research served her well when her designs were shown at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The collection of 87 miniature hat styles from 1680 to 1937 told the story of this fabulous accessory. Her work was so well received and her reputation spread so quickly that Mildred was asked to design hats for the films Gone with the Wind and Easter Parade. Her hats even appeared on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal in August 1942. She opened a hat shop in Beverly Hills, Ca later in the ‘40s where she was known as the “milliner to the stars”. Her clients included Marian Anderson, Rosalind Russell, Mary Pickford, Ginger Rogers, Joan Crawford and Gloria Vanderbilt (she designed her wedding veil.) She eventually became the first African American member of the Motion Pictures Costumers Union. Trailblazer Mildred Blount died in Los Angeles, Ca in 1974. Her work is held in the California African American Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
2/7/21 Black History Month
I first heard of Bricktop years ago while reading Paris Noir. I was travelling there soon and was preparing for a walking tour. Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith, better known as Bricktop, was born in 1894. Her unconventional entrepreneurial journey was as firey as her famous natural red hair. The nightclub owner wore a pistol and a smile using each as needed to establish her place among her historic contemporaries. Bricktop worked in vaudeville and in Harlem as a dancer, jazz singer, and became a ‘saloon-keeper’ who owned the nightclub Chez Bricktop in Paris located on La rue Blanche, a long street on Montmartre (a large hill on the right bank) from 1924 to 1961. La rue Blanche is known for the rows of white (blanche) buildings that aligned it.
Chez Bricktop was a sojourn for WWI African American soldiers who remained in the area after introducing jazz to Europe and later for other expats, entertainers, soul food chefs, etc…who’s artistry was highly appreciated by their patrons. Bricktop was a conduit for so many Black artists who went to Paris to escape discrimination, became celebrated the world over and, in some cases, were later partially accepted in America. Think Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, Mabel Mercer, etc... That said, During WWII Bricktop returned to the US to capitalize on her own Parisian success, but to no avail. She re-embraced her international lifestyle by opening nightclubs in Mexico City, Paris and Rome but none were as big a splash as Chez Bricktop. She closed her businesses in 1961, settled in America and continued to perform as a singer well into her 80’s. In 1984, Ada ‘Bricktop’ Smith died in New York City at the age of 89. Most recently, I was ecstatic to see my good friend, Gabrielle Lee, portrayed Bricktop in a one woman biopic musical that was part of the National Black Theatre Festival in 2019. Her influence lives on in today's performers.
-Gabrielle Lee wearing LISAMCFADDEN MILLINER vintage cloches.
2/4/21 Black History Month
Mae's Millinery Shop was one of the first shops in downtown Philadelphia to be owned by a woman of African American heritage. Born Lula Mae Grant, on October 29, 1912, in Vidalia Ga., she transitioned in 2016 at 104 years of age. Mae and her husband were very active in the community with religious, professional and political organizations. Ladies from these associations as well as celebrities were clients, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, Marian Anderson. In 1942 Reeves received a $500 bank loan and at the age of 28 she opened "Mae's Millinery Shop, not to be missed with standout signage. She opened a second shop in Philly and continued to create hats until 1997 when she retired at 85. Years later Reeves' daughter Donna Limerick (in pink floral trimmed hat) arranged for the contents of the shop to be donated to the Smithsonian. Mae Reeves' is a permanent installation at NMAAHC with an extensive collection not limited to her hats. It includes the shop's original red-neon ‘MILLINERY’ sign, antique furniture, sewing machine and other items from the shop.
2/1/21 Black History Month
A blizzard blankets DC's citywide closure including all the museums, but most notably this month the National Museum of African American History and Culture. As a milliner, my first and only visit shortly after it opened in 2016 had me completely overwhelmed. So very much information in one space, I gobbled up all that I could in the six hours earmarked for the day trip. Two and a half full days is suggested. Of course, I made sure to see the millinery exhibit featuring DC's first lady of hats, Vanilla Beane, and Philly's Mae Reaves. They were both pioneering entrepreneurs and community leaders and should not be missed once they city is opened again.
KEKE PALMER | TAKE ME TO THE CHURCH OF FREEDOM
A Journey Through Black History with KeKe Palmer
My first magazine cover! This happened so surprisingly but was definitely in alignment because I'd just watched a film with KeKe Palmer hours before I saw an email from Creative Director/Stylist Chaundielle Brown, requesting hats for this FAULT Magazine shoot with KeKe. I don't remember telling her because I just wanted to be still in the moment and do the work. She had a big request and was looking for hats spanning different eras and found me easily with a google search! I thought that was amazing because there are many milliners out there, but realized that I must be doing something special. Since my hat design aesthetic blends vintage and contemporary style, my designs where just what she was looking for. I'm so happy to have worked with Chaunielle. She was a pleasure, took great care of my headpieces, hats and masks, and did a phenomenal job as well as her team. Just goes to show...stay true to your own creativity, share it and it will come back in ways you may not imagine. See the article and amazing fashion video....
Solidarity in Style
The Milliners Guild’s virtual exhibition salutes the women of the suffrage movement and the centennial of the 19th amendment as the country prepares to cast what some consider its most consequential ballot on November 3. Solidarity in Style celebrates the diversity and contributions of all the women of the movement: seen and unseen, acknowledged and shunned, well known and unsung. Their creative interpretation hopes to honor the suffragists' collective strength and perseverance in their fight for the vote.
Mary Church Terrell lived a life on the forefront of change. She was one of the first African-American women to earn a college degree, a national activist leader for Black civil rights, women’s suffrage and among her many firsts, a charter member of the NAACP, a founding member and first national president of the National Association of Colored Women in 1896 and in 1910 helped to found the National Association of College Women . In 1913, when NAWSA- National American Women’s Suffrage Association held the suffrage rally, Terrell led the women of Howard University’s newly minted African American sorority, Delta Sigma Theta to insure inclusion and recognition at the historic event. This ‘V for Vote’ headpiece created with pipe cleaners and white Chantilly lace sits front and centered just as the woman it represents. -LMM