#BEstyleHistory: Stephen Burrows – Trailblazing Designer

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In conducting research for this month’s submission, I have continually been intrigued by my choice in features. From the lifestyle choices of Donyale Luna; to the fashion influences of Andre Leon Talley; now to the show-stopping and transcendent designs of Stephen Burrows. All three are relative forces in the fashion industry with long standing history at Vogue magazine and were influenced by life of Andy Warhol

In previous  interviews, Stephen Burrows was quoted, stating that much of his influences come from the human body, music, and dance. Through his association with Warhol and the crowd of Studio 54, Stephen was afforded the opportunities to dress the legendary Cher, Diana Ross, Liza Minnelli, and 60’s hipster, Jimi Hendrix. Burrows made his mark in the fashion industry during the ear of Studio 54, by changing mundane American fashion to colorful pieces of art. He introduced colors and patterns that many were not used to seeing on the runways and bodies of his patrons. Burrows began to change the way fashion was viewed in America and quickly the world. The unwilling desire to create playful one-of-a-kind dresses sent his career soaring through the reigns of the industry. Stephen Burrows is an awarding winning fashion designer and the first African American fashion designer to achieve International acclaim.


Burrows, a native of Newark, New Jersey, began to develop his skills in fashion design at any early age. He helped his grandmother with sewing and would eventually started making clothes for her. So when it was time for him to choose a profession, he chose to use what he had learned in textile and sewing and pursue a career in fashion. He first attended the Philadelphia Museum College of Art and would later move to New York City to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology. After graduating from F.I.T in 1966, Burrows began making clothes for the O Boutique, opposite Max’s Kansas City in New York. It was there that his amazing window displays would literally stop traffic and passers by. His designs featured lots Chiffon- gathered, draped, and always sexy. His collections were modern and functional – made to feel sultry with the use of sumptuous jersey in fuchsia, orange, and turquoise. He made clothes for women evoked of feeling of feminine and sexy. Stephen suddenly became overwhelmed with custom orders from private clients.

In 1969, Stephen partnered with Roz Rubenstein and launched a ready-to-wear collection for Bonwit Teller. That same year, Joel Schumacher, Visual Director of Henri Bendel, introduced Stephen to Bendel’s legendary Fashion Director Geraldine Stutz. She was immediately impressed and hired Stephen on the spot. At the clothing store on Fifth Avenue, the upper floors were home to the work of the fashion world’s top designers. The Boutique ‘Stephen Burrows World’ opened at Henri Bendel in 1970. It was there that Stephen received notoriety and his audience grew exponentially. By this time Stephen had made such a name for himself, one craved to be seen in his designs. His influence in the industry propelled the careers of models like Pat Cleveland, Iman, Naomi Sims and Bethan Hardison. He went on to been reviewed in shows on the European Runway. He became an international sensation and received fashion’s highest honor, The Coty-Award in 1971 – 1974 and again in 1977.

Although, Stephen was now this amazing fixture on runways and building the unprecedented clientele, he wanted more. He had this unfailing insistence to create original garments. Stephen was influenced by Halston to leave Henri Bendel and open his own Boutique on Seventh Avenue. He quickly began to sell products including fragrances, sunglasses and furs. To date, Stephen is making a huge come back in the industry and one of the most noted revamping of a fashion brand. He has expanded to include “S by Burrows” which is available on Home Shopping Europe (HSE), “Alva by Burrows,” for the Home Shopping Network (HSN), “Everyday Girl” and “SB73” is a cut and sew knit line that was developed to reflect his creation of the seventies.


For the last 20 years, Stephen concentrated on designing for the theater, couture clients, and remodeling his Brownstone in Harlem. But as fate would have it, Stephen is back even stronger than ever in the fashion world. He reopened at Bendel’s and unveiling collections at Fashion Week. Burrows has definitely with-stood the hands of time. Stephen’s distinguished career in fashion lead to the honor of having a star on New York City’s Fashion Walk of Fame

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REPOST: To get the full Stephen Burrows experience, please visit www.StephenBurrows.com


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