Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture exhibition marks the 55th anniversary of the Harlem Institute of Fashion

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Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture exhibition marks the 55th anniversary of the Harlem Institute of Fashion
Photograph of models at a HARLEM WEEK fashion show at the General Grant National Memorial (a.k.a. Grant’s Tomb), wearing designer Paco Rogiene, 2016. Photo by Hakim Mutlaq.

NEW YORK, NY.- During New York Fashion Week, the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture kicks off its fall season with its first exhibition since reopening to the public.

Showing Out: Fashion in Harlem will have a limited engagement from September 9 to 16 in the Center’s Media Gallery. The Schomburg Center is located at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem, New York.

Curated and co-presented by cultural tastemaker Souleo, Showing Out is a multimedia celebration of the 55th anniversary of the Harlem Institute of Fashion (HIF), founded by Lois K. Alexander-Lane. The exhibition spotlights HIF’s legendary fashion shows produced for the cultural festival HARLEM WEEK from 1979 to 1996 through costumes, images, papers, and a specially commissioned new media piece by multidisciplinary artist and former HIF model Dianne Smith.

Founded in 1966, HIF was the umbrella organization that encompassed the National Association of Milliners, Dressmakers, and Tailors (NAMDT) founded in 1966; and the Black Fashion Museum (BFM) founded in 1979. Through these three organizations, HIF provided courses, seminars, and workshops; workforce development; and the collection, documentation, display, and preservation of the work by Black creatives in fashion. The BFM collection is now part of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The collection includes garments designed by enslaved people, including Ann Lowe, Peter Davy, Geofrrey Holder, and seamstress and civil rights activist Rosa Parks.

One of the most impactful offerings by HIF was its fashion shows. With their eye-catching costumes, dramatic runway presentations, and embrace of the local community, the shows became one of the most popular programs during HARLEM WEEK. They provided an opportunity for emerging and mid-career Black designers, models, and administrators to “show out” and obtain recognition, economic empowerment, and professional development. Simultaneously, the shows allowed people to find pride and joy in the role Blacks have played throughout fashion history.

“This exhibition celebrates HIF’s efforts to amplify the contributions of Black people in fashion and to democratize the industry,” explains Souleo. “The exhibition arrives when the topic of equity for Black people in fashion has received increased attention during the Black Lives Matter movement. By foregrounding the legacy of HIF, we honor the underrepresented trailblazers who were fighting to advance social justice in fashion.”

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