During this past Juneteenth celebration, Black Fashion Fair and Theophilio hosted an event at Industry City NYC titled Family Reunion. The celebration was for Black creatives and allies to convene and enjoy each other’s company, and to celebrate their recent collaborative capsule that centered Black families. The timing of the event was also a kick-off to the summer as state restrictions continued to loosen up and curfews were lifted, along with it being the first time to gather as a community for most people since the beginning of the pandemic. The atmosphere was set outside on a mini-green, turf field within the complex, which allowed attendees to enjoy the sunny weather and browse the surrounding scenery.
The turf was dressed with branded Black Fashion Fair blankets, adorned with much-needed snacks and games for guests to indulge in. Guests were flicked up by photographer, Christian Cody against a vibrant blue backdrop where friends and family were able to flex their melanin all-day-long. The interactive elements of this joyful event didn’t stop there. Black-owned florist, Olivee Floral, created by Karla Smith-Brown, was also present with a mini-shop for guests to choose from a selection of flowers and plants for a complimentary flower arrangement wrapped in branded Black Fashion Fair newspaper. “I wanted to literally give Black people their flowers,” said BFF owner, Antoine Gregory. The second to last interactive element was a Theophilio pop-up shop being run by the designer, Edvin Thompson, which gave guests the chance to view his beautiful pieces up-close, purchase what caught their eye, and meet the designer.
The event was almost a direct reflection of a family and friend cookout — guests danced together, enjoyed food and drinks, played games, and sang along to the live surprise performances, which was the final interactive element of the magical affair. “The energy was so magnetic, I felt like I was back at home with my family” says photographer Joshua Renfroe. Smooth vibrations of classic hip-hop songs, R&B jams, and Reggae filled the space and created a familiar environment for guests to feel comfortable being their full selves. Creating a genuine space for Black individuals to feel immersed and surrounded by their own culture is often a gap we see across certain industries, but Black Fashion Fair certainly filled the gap with Family Reunion.
Later in the evening, guests were graced with an intimate performance by Elle Varner, with everyone gathering in front of the stage to dance and sing along to the beautiful melodies. Afros, cornrows, dreadlocks, durags, and Telfar bags filled the crowd as they hummed and moved in harmony. In the midst of Elle Varner singing one of her fan favorites, Refill, it began to drizzle rain, but Miss Varner and the guests were unfazed and continued to sing together with full-volume. Then came another exciting artist, Theophilus London. The Trinidadian rapper/singer provided a unique sound that filled the body with rhythm and a desire to dance, all while looking great in his full Theophilio look.
Gregory shared that the intention of Family Reunion was to celebrate the Black experience. He preferred it to be an open space for everyone with easy access to each element. Gregory also opted-out of security for the performers to maintain the intimacy as the event was purely about community.
Aside from the memorable performances, the Christian Cody portraits were definitely a highlight of the event. The stylish guests lined up to take pictures with their family and friends against the oil-painted backdrop and Cody did an exceptional job capturing everyone in their true essence.
ESSENCE: Why is it important for Black people to document their own experiences?
Gregory: The only way our stories are going to be told in a way that matters is if we tell them. There is so much lost when we let someone else tell them. When we are photographed by non-Black photographers, the images are stereotypical and do not exemplify the diversity of the Black experience. There’s so much history lost in the end if we’re not the ones keeping track of it.
ESSENCE: How did hosting Family Reunion tie into Black Fashion Fair’s purpose?
Gregory: The sole purpose of BFF is for the discovery and furtherance of Black designers and the communities they inspire. That’s exactly what the event was — I partnered with an amazing young designer, Edvin Thompson, and our capsule and the event highlighted our communities. I wanted people to be able to meet and build relationships with the designer to create a community. BFF is always putting our community first and using fashion as the vehicle to move us forward.
ESSENCE: How would you describe the experience of being gathered at Family Reunion on Juneteenth?
Thompson: It was amazing to say the least. The family reunion in the U.S. is a little different from how we would celebrate a family reunion in Jamaica. But it was really nice to see how the experience merged the communities together and to see the story of me creating the bridge between Jamaica and the U.S., and cultivating space where we own our vision.
Family Reunion was surely an event to remember and will definitely be something we look forward to each year as BFF plans to make it an annual occurrence. It encompassed all of the attributes of a traditional family reunion and more by bringing communities together to celebrate shared heritage and culture.