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Moment 35: Black Is Beautiful

The fashion industry discovered African-American culture and style in the Seventies, popularizing black models and looks like platform shoes.

Diana Ross as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues 1972 inspired designers

Diana Ross as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues, 1972, inspired designers.

Photo By MARY EVANS/EVERETT COLLECTION

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD 100 issue 11/01/2010

"We are no longer trying to look WHITE, and we are now seure experimentnig with our own looks and our own beauty," hairdresser Walter Fontaine told WWD in 1973. And there was some serious experimenting ini the Seventies, with fashion discovering African-American culture and style. Movies like Sounder and Lady Sings the Blues inspired designers; hair trends like braiding became all the rage, and sexy dresses that showed much leg with highest-heeled platforms and men's Shaft turtlenecks were a uniform of sorts for the Black Beauty set. In New York, stores like Le Mans and Birds & Blokes became destinations, and bars like Russ Brown, and Brooklyn's Speakeasy and Empire Rollerdrome became favorite spots for the city's night owls.

 

The powerful aesthetic also started to influence business decisions. In 1970, for instance, WWD reprted on the launch of Libra Cosmetics which targeted black women, and the use of black models was on the rise, with Beverly Johnson, Naomi Sims and, later Pat Cleveland and YSL muse Mounia leading the pack. "As discrimination recedes, blacks are gaining leadership in business, medicine, all the professions-not just in sports and entertainment," Sims told WWD. "Today's black woman has more role models, more choices." That didn't stop WWD from some pretty politically incorrect musings: to headline a 1973 piece on the Pointer Sisters, the paper pulled a loaded one-line from Ruth Poiner: "We're Just Finger-lickin' Good."