By Tonaé Lee

When you think of “Style Icon” what comes to mind? I think of people who are timeless and classic with their fashion choices. Versatile and original. In my opinion, Black creatives and designers are the blueprint for a lot of the hot trends and pop culture today. It’s just like how the saying goes “Without Black culture, there would be no pop culture!” When I think of icons overall I think of those who are legendary at what they do, following no rules and creating their own lane. In no particular order, here are my top 10 personal favorite Black style icons of all time:

Although Ann Lowe was not credited for most of her designs, Lowe is deemed one of fashion’s best kept secrets. (Courtesy Photo)
  1. Ann Lowe – Born Dec. 1896, Ann Lowe was the first African American to become recognized as a notable fashion designer. Creating one-of-a-kind designs for the social elites, she is most known for creating the wedding gown for first lady, Jackie Kennedy. During the 1950s and 60’s Lowe began working for brands such as Henri Bendel, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Although she was not credited for most of her designs, Lowe is deemed one of fashion’s best kept secrets. Lowe’s work can be found at art galleries all over, such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
  2. Diana Ross – A fellow Aries and style pioneer, Ross was the first person I saw in true glitz and glamor. Lead singer of the Motown group The Supremes, Ross embodies the soul and originality of the 60’s era. The full glitter bodysuits, with the over the top hair styles were my favorite! To this day I use Ross as inspiration for Christmas and New Year’s Eve fashion choices.

    Diane Ross is known for her bright and shimmery outfits and larger-than-life hair. (Courtesy Photo)
  3. Angela Davis – A revolutionary activist and style staple, Davis and her afro were front and center during the 60s, 70s and beyond. Although Davis’ activism is most important, her choice of hairstyle has also made major waves. Her afro was used as a political symbol representing black pride and not conforming. Davis’ afro is one of the many reasons I began rocking my natural afro, despite criticism.
  4. A revolutionary activist and style staple, Angela Davis and her afro were front and center during the 60s, 70s and beyond (AFRO archive)
  5. Patrick Kelly – The first American designer to be inaugurated into the Chambre Syndicale. Patrick Kelly gave us color and life with his designs. Mississippi born, Kelly started his love of fashion while browsing a VOGUE Magazine and seeing no people of color photographed. That was the ammunition that sparked him wanting to be able to create designs for all women. Migrating from the south to NYC, he enrolled at Parsons School of Design to help better his craft. Frustrated with the lack of opportunities in the city, Kelly was encouraged by supermodel, Pat Cleveland, to book a one way flight to Paris to live out his designing dreams. Kelly is the poster of “Creating Your Own Lane.” His love for embellishments and odd silhouettes has had a great impact on my fashion choices today. My style is heavily influenced by vintage glam, with pops of retro colors and tones.
  6. Grace Jones – The 80’s Rock and Roll sensation is accredited for her influence on the androgynous men and women of the “cross dressing” community. Starting her modeling career at the age of 13, Jones stormed the most prestigious fashion houses from the States to Paris. She has also been on major publications such as Elle and Vogue Magazine. The unique style and bold features of Jones has had major impacts on the style of the 90’s and current mainstream artists. Jones was listed as one of the 50 best-dressed over 50 by The Guardian in March 2013.
  7. Nancy Butts Martin – The lady behind the styles of some of your favorite Disney shows and movies. Martin is a very accomplished costume designer and stylist, working on shows such as That’s So Raven and The Cheetah Girls 2. These are all productions that heavily affected the fashions of the 2000s. Watching these shows and movies, looking at the eclectic fashions on screen, Martin has contributed to the reason I wanted to get into costume design and wardrobe styling today. To this day, the 2000’s is such a nostalgic era and a lot of the looks from the early 2000’s television shows are being recreated.
  8. From selling items out of his car to opening his atelier in Harlem in 2018. He is the true link between hip hop and high fashion. (Courtesy Photo)
  9. Dapper Dan – This Harlem legend is accredited for introducing high fashion to hip hop. He is included in Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020. From selling items out of his car to opening his atelier in Harlem in 2018, his story is a true full circle moment. After dealing with racism in the industry, Dan knew he would have to think outside of the box to get his fashion business off of the ground; he began using bootleg fabrics to create one-of-a-kind pieces for his urban clients who couldn’t just walk in the store and purchase designer pieces. He is the true link between hip hop and high fashion.
  10. Misa Hylton – The genius behind one of the most influential rappers’ fashion choices of the 90’s. A true fashion architect, Hylton is the first stylist to really utilize upcycling, the process of deconstructing a garment and reconstructing it into a new piece. In conjunction with Dapper Dan, Hylton has been able to create unique ensembles for the hottest celebrities and socialites. Artists such as Lil Kim, styled by Hylton, have had heavy influences on not only my personal style but a lot of past and current pop culture fashion takes. You can watch her story in the movie The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion. 
  11. June Ambrose – An award winning stylist and costume designer, Ambrose is the reason I knew what a stylist entailed. Behind some of the greatest music videos and hip hop movies created, she has dressed stars ranging from Missy Elliot to Jay Z. With the launching of social media, she was the first person I saw branding and promoting the art of dressing people. A true queen of the early 2000’s hip hop fashion scene. She is currently working as the creative director at Puma.
  12. Rihanna – From her iconic red carpet appearances at fashionable events such as The Met Gala, to her collaborations with brands like Puma, Rihanna has proven time and time again she is undoubtedly a fashion icon. In 2015, she became the first ever Black woman spokesperson for Dior. The bajan billionaire has created a stylish empire. Turning a music career into a mogul success.

Follow Tonaé Lee, the beauty behind the brand, on Instagram @stylefanaticstylings, Facebook – www.facebook.com/misstonaelee and connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/company/style-fanatic-stylings.

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