Now that the inaugural celebration for the Biden/Harris administration is over let’s get into the fashion! Former First Lady Michelle Obama stole the show with her merlot-colored coat, jewel-toned ensemble, and wide-legged jumpsuit by Sergio Hudson. And Kamala looked stunning in her purple coat and dress. But let’s get into the designers behind the fashion.
In a year where the global fashion industry has faced its most significant ever racial reckoning, these Black designers were just propelled onto a national scale and deserve their roses while they’re still with us.
By Harris donning fashion labels made by black men, she is outwardly aligning the new administration’s commitment to diversity with the fashion industry’s attempt to move past systemic, historic racism into a new era. An era where Black designers, and designers of color, get the same opportunities as their white counterparts have had for years.
Author Ronda Racha Penrice says, “When it comes to inauguration events, Black designers have been almost exclusively absent, so it was nice to discover that the fabulous outfits [were] created by Black designers.”
Last Tuesday, when Harris was photographed paying tribute to those lost to the pandemic, she wore a camel color coat featuring a distinctive water design on the back. The designer of the coat, Kerby Jean-Raymond, owner of Pyer Moss, says, “The wave means a ‘new wave.’” Jean-Raymond thought the symbol could be read in the administration’s context of being unafraid to confront America’s racist past.
For others, like Professor Eric Darnell, author of Fashioning Lives, “[The wave] made me think of the Atlantic Ocean. As a descendant of enslaved African People, stolen and taken over the Atlantic, I thought immediately of those ancestors.”
Pyer Moss’s previous fashion collections stay true to such interpretations, having thematically shone a light on unheralded black history and erasure or racial identities, like Black cowboys.
Celebrating the individual is something Christopher John Rogers is no stranger to, whose ultraviolet purple coat Harris wore during Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony.
Rogers, like Sergio Hudson–the designer of Harris’s black tux and sequin dress she wore for the evening inauguration celebrations–have southern roots from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Columbia, South Carolina, respectively.
The high drama, but buttoned-up simplicity and sophistication, in Roger’s and Hudson’s designs, include remnants of Black southern women and stylish Black church women. And, through Rogers’ powerfully bold color palette and use of extreme angles, we see and understand the importance of radical individualism.
Of this individualism, Rogers says, “There’s so much vitriol and pessimism in the air towards individuals that don’t fit certain molds or performative expectations. So it’s nice to combat that with true expressions of self, in whatever form that takes. The most effective in some instances is radical, boisterous personal style.”
For the designers worn at the inauguration, the exposure should vastly increase their brands’ reach, or at least it should. If it doesn’t, it will probably reflect the ongoing race issues at the core of the fashion industry.