From the opening of the show that saw participating models dance to the tune of “Family Reunion” by The O’Jays, to the runway presentations of Black female designers, the 11thannual Harlem’s Fashion Row gala was a riveting and inspiring success.
Founded by Brandice Henderson-Daniel in 2007, HFR has grown to become a powerhouse in sourcing and promoting Black fashion talent and this year’s celebration took things up a notch by honoring Lebron James, Bethann Hardison, Jason Rembert and Dapper Dan. HFR also partnered with Nike and its stand for social change and economic justice, with Nike providing custom footwear designed by the event’s three women designers—Project Runway’s Kimberly Goldson, Undra Celeste and ESSENCE Designer To Watch, Fe Noel.
Noel dedicated her collection to her mother and Queensland, while her featured designs included bohemian flowy earth tones, bold oranges and elegant robes painted with Black Christian iconography. A highlight of the collection was an embroidered floral jersey bearing the words “Chosen.”
Goldson’s collection, creatively titled “Formation,” featured pleated pantsuits with thin gold waist belts, gold lamé short sets and beanie hats. The collection was dedicated to Brooklyn (with Biggie and ‘Lil Kim tunes serving as her soundtrack).
Celeste’s presentation paid homage to the glitter girls of the 70’s, and featured wide legged lurex pants, stacked heels and sequins.
Throughout the evening, we also caught up with industry icons like Bozoma Saint John, Trevor Jackson and Umindi Francis.
“We are honoring some of the people we hold in such high regard and it’s such a phenomenal thing,” Francis told ESSENCE. “With the support of the CFDA and the fashion industry, I can’t even imagine what’s in store for the next decade.”
This year’s award honorees included “Stylist of the Year” winner Jason Rembert. Rembert, whose clients include Zayn Malik and Rota Ora, dedicated his trophy to his mother. The talented fashion maven credits his mom with helping to shape his career and groom him for where he is today.
Revered model and activist Bethann Hardison accepted her “Icon Trailblazer” award with kind words for Brandice Daniel. “I’m just glad to be here and happy to finally accept Brandice honoring me, because for the longest time, I told her no,” Hardison said. “I admire her for putting in the work.”
“Lifetime Maverick Award” honoree Dapper Dan had words of affirmation and encouragement. “People of color can make major contributions to any game that we play,” Dan said. “There’s a change that’s taking place. We’ve been doing this. And if we create a staircase for ourselves, we can go up and down it- opposed to going up someone else’s and getting kicked down.”
The highlight of the evening came by way of “Icon 360” award winner LeBron James.
One month after fulfilling his goal of opening his Promise School in his hometwon of Akron, Ohio, James shared heartfelt remarks with the NYFW audience. “Those hard times and dark roads are what makes you,” he told the crowd.” I stand for anybody that believes in change and a positive attitude.”
ESSENCE team member, Rondel Holder was proud to be on hand to support the highly-anticipated event. “I’m so excited to be here… the energy is amazing, and the designers are more than deserving and it’s time for this to happen” Holder said. “Anybody standing for change, I have to support, and I will continue to stand behind equality. Lebron’s school is life-changing and he’s inspired me to do the same.”
HFR also debuted an empowering docu-film that captured the design process of the first ever Nike shoe, ‘for women, designed by women.’ The Black women-designed sneaker (crafted by Celeste, Goldson and Noel), was made with Nike’s full support and the backing of LeBron. The sneaker is aptly named the ‘LeBron James 16.’
“We don’t get a lot of opportunities to celebrate Black fashion and its trendsetting nature,” Saint John said. “And obviously, I’m very proud of Lebron and how he leads not only on the basketball court, but in culture.”
Speaking on the now 11 years of seeing her event change lives, Daniel was overwhelmed with gratitude and excited for what’s ahead.
“God has so far exceeded anything I could have asked, imagined or dreamt,” she said. “I feel like the next 10 years are going to be years that are history making. This 11-year event tonight is a big part of a shift that’s about to happen in history for people of color in fashion.”