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Harlem’s Fashion Row Honors Stella Jean, Kelly Rowland, A$AP Rocky at Fashion Show and Style Awards

Story by Lisa Lockwood

Harlem’s Fashion Row Honors Stella Jean, Kelly Rowland, A$AP Rocky at Fashion Show and Style Awards© Provided by WWD

It was a night of high-fives, hugs, standing ovations, tears and celebration at Harlem’s Fashion Row’s 16th annual Fashion Show and Style Awards, celebrating hip-hop’s 50th anniversary.

Held at the iconic Apollo Theater in Harlem, the event honored Stella Jean as designer of the year; Kelly Rowland as fashion icon; Gabriella Karefa-Johnson, Vogue’s global contributing editor as editor of the year; Wayman Bannerman and Micah McDonald, a Los Angeles-based styling duo, as stylists of year, and photographer Johnny Nuñez as hip-hop trailblazer. Rapper and songwriter A$AP Rocky received the Virgil Abloh Award, presented by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

Following the awards ceremony, three emerging Black designers showed their collections: Nicole Benefield, Aaron Potts and sustainable brand designer Megan Smith, whose line is Megan Renee.

The theme of the event, sponsored by AT&T and Disney Create 100 and Camille Rose, was “Remix,” in honor of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. Among those in attendance were June Ambrose, Sergio Hudson and Dapper Dan, in addition to presenters such as Tamron Hall, Tonne Goodman and Samira Nasr.

Brandice Daniel, founder and chief executive officer of Harlem’s Fashion Row, said, “We are here in the heart of Harlem at the world-famous Apollo Theater. We are commemorating a huge milestone — the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. Hip-hop has left an indelible mark on me personally and every facet of our culture, especially fashion.”

She said the evening also celebrated the art of storytelling, because that’s what hip-hop is. “And these are stories of resilience, stories of triumph, stories of ambition and stories of audacity,” Daniel said. “We will also honor the distinguished innovators who have shaped the fashion landscape who don’t often get recognized enough.”

She said many of the artists and designers they were celebrating have overcome considerable obstacles, particularly those who have faced systemic racial barriers that persist in the fashion industry. “This evening serves of a testament to the dismantling of those barriers and the ascent towards an inclusive and empowering fashion industry,” Daniel said.

Gabriella Karefa-Johnson

Daniel underscored the economic weight of the Black consumer. According to McKinsey, Black Americans are expected to spend $70 billion annually on apparel and footwear. “These same individuals are three times more likely to patronize Black-owned or -founded brands. To overlook this, is to overlook the deniable force of our community,” Daniel said.

Daniel said she’s grateful for her brand partners, many of whose executives were in the audience from companies such as H&M, American Eagle Outfitters, Abercrombie & Fitch, Lululemon, Nike, Victoria’s Secret, Dior Beauty, Macy’s Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Saks, Sephora, and LVMH.

In presenting the Fashion Icon award to his wife, Rowland, Tim Witherspoon said, “I couldn’t pass up this moment to tell you in front of the world that you have always been my icon. Not just in fashion, but in all that you do, including raising our sons, and raising the bar for yourself.…You’re the flyest and you do it all. with style and grace.”

In accepting her award, Rowland, who rose to fame in the late 1990s as a member of Destiny’s Child, said, “I love that Black man. I love you so much Tim. I am not going to cry. First of all, Brandice, hearing you talk about Harlem’s Fashion Row, I just want to shout your name and talk about you from every rooftop. For what you are doing is groundbreaking…you are the true icon. Thank you so much for seeing me. You have no idea how much this means to me.”

She said that when she was called about being a fashion icon, I was like, “What is that?”

“For me, I thought it was all the girls in the fashion magazines who started trends,” she said. She said her history with fashion started with Destiny’s Child when Tina Knowles, Beyoncé’s mother, took matters into her own hands “and she dressed us and I remember what it was like to start a trend.” She said she knows “that we start the trends, we make things cool. Fashion should be grateful for us.”

Gabriella Karefa-Johnson

Karefa-Johnson said as a fashion editor she’s had the privilege to shape the narrative that extends beyond the pages and the runway. “Through our art, we’ve had the privilege of reshaping perception, dismantling barriers and showing the world that diversity is not just a buzz word but the very essence of beauty and creativity,” she said. “Our choices and voices as a fashion editor acutely shape the world of fashion, beauty and style, and with that power comes a responsibility to acknowledge and amplify voices that have long been silent and to champion stories that have never been told.”

Nasr, editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar, presented the stylists of the year awards to Wayman and Micah, who joined forces in 2013. She said they work for such celebrities as Jodie Turner-Smith, Tiffany Haddish and Keke Palmer, who have all “become red carpet powerhouses, and they’ve all collaborated with Wayman and Micah,” Nasr said.

Wayman said to be named stylists of the year feels great, “but to be named Stylists of the Year by Harlem’s Fashion Rows really special to us,” he said. He said they both started their careers in Harlem making vision boards. He said that ironically some of the celebrities they were cutting out were people they got to work with. “Manifestation is real,” he said.

Micah added that it’s their 10th year anniversary working together. “People always ask how that happened especially in the creative space. I heard a quote once, ‘relationships are not about compromise, they’re about compatibility, for if there is compatibility, there’s less of a need to compromise.'”

Tamron Hall

In presenting the designer of the year award to Stella Jean, the Italian fashion designer of partial Haitian heritage, Hall, the broadcast journalist and TV talk show host, explained that in 2020 the fashion world was marked by profound reflection and transformation. She said Jean took a stand in a bold and powerful move and pledged to return to the runway only when she would not be the sole Black designer on the Milan schedule. “If she was there, we had to be there. Her commitment to diversity and inclusion has resonated with the fashion industry and set remarkable precedent for change.” She said she had the pleasure of being in Rome one summer day and she had just lost her job and was looking for inspiration and was looking for sisterhood “and I met Stella Jean.”

“You know I know my people…and I saw her soul and I saw that she wanted them to see us,” Hall said. “So often when you think of an Italian designer and you close your eyes, you see a white man. Stella John wanted the world to close their eyes and see her, and see others she believed in.”

Jean said she wants to see change in her country. Last February, Jean said she would go on a hunger strike, accusing the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, which organizes the Milan fashion shows each spring and fall, of abandoning its promotion of young designers of color working in Italy.

“This lady [Hall] seven months ago decided to change the trajectory of my life. after 10 days of hunger strike…..she decided to use her voice and her platform to make an appeal for me,” said Jean. “I will be strong enough to carry out this change in my country. I won’t give up. It reminded me that I’m not alone anymore, and I’ll never be alone again.”

In presenting the Hip Hop Trailblazer Award, Valeisha Butterfield, vice president of partnerships and engagement at Google, recalled a moment when Nunez took her photo as a young intern. “It was on that day, that I walked a little taller, and I sat a little straighter and I used my voice a little differently. I felt seen for the first time, understood and even respected. That is what it feels like to be photographed by the one and only Johnny Nuñez. You made me feel magical. But it’s bigger than a picture. Johnny is stamping a moment in our time, cementing and documenting our history as a community, as a culture in real time….From the White House to the Grammys to New York Fashion Week, to every single moment that matters.” She said it hasn’t been easy, from systemic barriers and systemic racism. “You’ve experienced more doors shut in your face with no valid explanation, but here you stand,” she said.

Nuñez said Harlem’s Fashion Row has “opened up opportunities for people of Black and brown color and they’ve opened a dialogue so that we can expand the creative.”

Johnny Nuñez and family

Finally, Rocky was presented with the Virgil Abloh Award by Anish Melwani, LVMH North America chief executive officer, and Gena Smith, chief human resources officer at LVMH North America. This award pays tribute to Abloh’s enduring impact by honoring individuals who, like him, demonstrate contributions to culture, community and innovation while embodying his spirit and brilliance.

Rocky said, “I feel like I look — good. My start started in Harlem.” He said he didn’t prepare a speech because he wanted to talk from the heart. “Virgil discovered us — A$AP — as a bunch of kids. We didn’t know who we were. Virgil knew who we were. A year later, I became famous. Virgil went on to design my first album cover.

“We’re responsible for a lot of trends. I’m not trying to toot my own horn. By we, I mean me,” Rocky said.

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