Black Fashion Week MN Highlights Icons and Newcomers

“Refresh Rebuild Fashion” is the theme for this year’s Black Fashion Week MN (BFWMN), and fittingly, the event focuses on both legacy and up-and-coming designers in the state. From May 21 to 29, the line-up includes four nights of runways, plus a bonus Model Call 101 class, but the crown jewels are the streetwear show “Revolution of Fashion” and the part-exhibit, part-fashion show finale “BLCK STYLE.”

“This is the year of coming back,” BFWMN founder Natalie Morrow says. “Let’s get out of our sweatpants, get out of our houses, get out of our apartments. We can still wear makeup, and pretty soon people will be able to see our faces and get vaccinated. All these new [COVID-related] things, going forward, have really changed the way life will be from now on, but I feel like the refresh, revive—we just need that.”

Serving a community changed by 2020

2020 wasn’t just about the pandemic, though. It was also about George Floyd’s murder and centuries of racial injustice reaching a boiling point. “Being a Black woman, we know [racism] is there. We live with it every day. It’s just George Floyd took the wool off people’s eyes. What we’ve always seen, that’s what they’re seeing. And that’s why he changed the world,” Morrow said.

As a tribute to the movement, the multi-designer “Revolution of Fashion” show (May 27) also includes protest footage by videographer Adrian Wilson, Morrow says. Fashion is a way of expression, and she is excited to see how people are wearing their hearts on their sleeves with their signs and their shirts.

“[Floyd’s murder] changed how people felt. They were confident in who they were, that they weren’t racist or had prejudiced ways, but then they thought about it,” Morrow says. “I had people reaching out then and apologizing if they had done anything to offend me or people on my staff. It did change how we look at all this.”

Milestones of the past and celebrations of the present

Whether it’s because of people’s desire to support the Black community, the momentum built from BFWMN’s start in 2018, or the excitement of finally being able to get together (Morrow says it’s a little of everything), the event has been fully embraced by the community this year.

W Minneapolis – The Foshay has become the official sponsor and is hosting the kick-off mixer at its 27th-floor Prohibition Bar. Both the Minnesota Afircan American Heritage Museum & Gallery (MAAHMG) and Empire Beauty School initiated partnerships. The BFWMN Instagram following has increased almost 233% since the pandemic, too, and the day I connected with her, Morrow was discussing a social media collaboration with an Instagram account that has more than 600,000 followers.

Even as BFWMN continues moving forward, the event is sure to celebrate both the present and the past. One example is a screening of a Karl Kani fashion show tucked amid events featuring the newest looks. The show was Morrow’s first runway production, and even though Morrow couldn’t quite remember what year it happened, as she puts it, “How far back was it? Kevin Garnett was on the Timberwolves! He was there, and so was Jason Kidd on the New Jersey Nets. All the Timberwolves came, and all the Nets came.”

Another example might be the part-exhibit, part-rooftop runway, “BLCK STYLE,” done in collaboration with the MAAHMG and the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS). On May 28 and 29, local and formerly local designers Troe Williams, Robyne Robinson, Alexis Brazil, Rammy Mohamed, and Kendall Ray will each showcase three looks alongside visual history touching on iconic Black fashion influencers like Ann Lowe, Dapper Dan, and Prince. Although the locals may be billed as “emerging designers” in the press release, Morrow is quick to point out the legacy of some of them.

“Troe [Williams] has been around for many years, and most people don’t know that he used to do all the decor of clubs in Minnesota,” Morrow says, ticking off places like the Visage, Seven, Rosewood, and the ever-redecorating Lounge. “The night club scene was Troe.” Beyond that, Williams has also worked with celebrities including Pam Grier, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Laverne Cox.

Robinson has her own eclectic history in Minnesota, first as an anchor at Fox 9 and then through her creative passions. She’s most known for ROX Jewelry, but she also designed the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport restrooms and has worked with people like Beyonce, Paula Abdul, and Fab 5 Freddy.

As for the other three designers, they may be newer, but they’ve already made an impact with multiple BFWMN and Fashion Week MN appearances, awards, and recognition.

“I really am proud of the museum one because the Minnesota Historical Society is well renowned across the country,” Morrow says, adding, “I’m into museums, I’m into exhibits and fashion and film, and I absolutely love them at the same time. I’m bringing that love and enthusiasm to our community because sometimes we may or may not know what we like, so if they’re bringing an open mind, they may enjoy something different.”

See the full line-up of Black Fashion Week MN’s events here.