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Wed, 09.15.1943

Stephen Burrows, Fashion Designer born

Stephen Burrows

*Stephen Burrows was born on this date in 1943. He is a Black fashion designer.

He was born in Newark, New Jersey, to parents Octavia Pennington and Gerald Burrows. His mother and maternal grandmother raised him, Beatrice Pennington Banks Simmons. Fascinated with his grandmother's zigzag sewing machine, he learned to sew early. He made his first garment for a friend's doll when he was eight.  In high school, Burrows took dance lessons and loved the mambo. He began heading to Manhattan on Sundays to dance at the Palladium nightclub and sketch dresses he wanted for his partners.

After graduation from Newark Arts High School, Burrows first enrolled at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art, intending to be an art teacher. Inspired by dress forms he encountered during a college tour, he transferred to New York City's Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) but found it frustrating. Even then, he had established his spontaneous style of cutting at all angles, stretching edges off grain, and draping as he went. He graduated in 1966.

Burrows began his working career with a job at blouse manufacturer Weber Originals. Gradually small shops picked up his work, and in 1968 he began working with Andy Warhol and his entourage at Max's Kansas City and selling across the street at the O Boutique. Burrows' clothes are the fashion embodiment of the electric sexuality of this era. The women who wore his clothes gave off an aura of frantically creative days and wild nights filled with disco music and glamorous people. His classmates wanted to sell their lines at the famous Fifth Avenue retailer Henri Bendel. Burrows met Geraldine Stutz, Bendel's owner, in the summer of 1968. She loved the coat he wore to meet her so much that she gave him a boutique in the store.

In the fall of 1973, Burrows' first lingerie/sleepwear collection, "Stevies," was introduced at Henri Bendel's, Bonwit Teller, Lord & Taylor, and Bloomingdales as stores in Chicago, San Francisco, and elsewhere. He was one of the five American fashion designers chosen to showcase their work at the historical fashion show billed as divertissement à Vèrsailles, held on November 28, 1973. He was the youngest American designer to show a collection in over a decade.

In 1978, Farrah Fawcett wore his gold chainmail dress to the Academy Awards as a presenter. In February 1981, Brooke Shields, at age 15, appeared on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine wearing Stephen Burrows. Other women who loved his clothes included Barbra Streisand, Cher, The Supremes, Bette Midler, and Jerry Hall. His work as a fashion designer has been the subject of a series of retrospectives: "1940–1970s Cut and Style" at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology, "The 1970s" at The Tribute Gallery in New York, and "Back to Black: Art, Cinema, and the Racial Imaginary" at Whitechapel Gallery in London in June 2005.

In 2006, the Council of Fashion Designers of America honored Burrows with "The Board of Directors Special Tribute." Around the same time, Burrows attended the Chambre Syndicale de la Mode to return to Paris to present his Spring/Summer 2007 Collection in the Carrousel de Louvre. In addition to "Stephen Burrows World," he expanded his company to include several labels drawn from various points of inspiration. "S by Burrows" was created for a venture with Home Shopping Europe (HSN). At the same time, "Everyday Girl" was inspired by Anna Cleveland, daughter to Muse, and "SB73", a cut-and-sew knit line developed based on Burrows' hallmark, color-blocked creations of the seventies.  

Michelle Obama wore a Burrows Jersey pantsuit to an event in Washington, D.C., of which Vogue Magazine wrote, "It was a wonderful acknowledgment of Burrows, one of the great African-American designers and a Harlem resident known for his inventive cuts and bias technique."  2010 he opened his new showroom and design studio in New York City's Garment Center.  In 2013, the City of New York Museum mounted the first major examination of Burrows' work in "Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced" with an accompanying catalog.

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