Just two days before his show, b michael — the man behind the fashion brand b michael America — was hard at work in his 17th floor fashion district studio in New York City. The steady drone of sewing machines filled the air, mixing rhythmically with some light music from the small radio in the corner.
It was busy, as should be expected in an atelier in the middle of Fashion Week 2012. When b michael met me at the door of his shop, final touches were being put on the beautiful garments that would soon be seen on the runway for his Wednesday night show at the City Museum of New York. The designer is one of two African-Americans with major presentations being held this season.
Racks hung around the white room’s perimeter filled with dresses in classic cuts, modernized with vibrant colors and unique uses of fabric. But within the scope of such innovations, “it’s definitely about classic American style,” b michael said of his brand. “And I think that’s very important.” Clean lines and joyful colors predominate in his line, while b micheal exercises great creativity within this framework.
WATCH DESIGNER B MICHAEL DISCUSS HIS DESIGN STYLE BELOW:
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B, as he prefers to be addressed, has designed clothes worn by members of black Hollywood royalty such as Victoria Rowell and Beyonce Knowles, and trained under renowned names in fashion. He started his career as a millinery designer, designing hats under Oscar de la Renta. Millinery also provided a career start for fashion greats like Halston and Coco Chanel.
“I thought that was a club that I could join,” b said about following in the footsteps of other famous clothiers by making hats first. “It really evolved from there.”
His first big break came when he was tapped to do the millinery work for the 1980s hit television drama Dynasty. Following his success on the show, b michael launched his own millinery line in 1989.
From his earliest work to his most recent achievements — including designing the costumes for Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks in the film remake of Sparkle — b has created a brand that exudes style and sophistication.
Colleagues and clients have described his work as exquisite, detailed and classy. That style was center stage at Wednesday’s show, at which elegant models glided down the runway in b’s latest designs for an eager crowd.
“I’m very familiar with b’s work,” Cicely Tyson told theGrio, while sitting in the front row. “He designs most of my gowns and he never ceases to amaze me. And I don’t think I’ve ever missed a show. At the end of each one I’m thinking, well he really soared this time. And the following year he just outdoes himself.”
This legendary thespian is not the only one riveted by b’s talent.
“This collection is outstanding. I’ve not seen clothing like this in many years,” actress Phylicia Rashad told theGrio just after the show ended. “It’s everything I love in clothing. I love the fabrics, I love the colors, I love the lines, I love those shawl collars and those off the shoulder [pieces]… oh my gosh, it’s just too beautiful.”
B’s career has been studded with celebrity clients — but his opportunity to dress Whitney Houston by designing her costumes for the coming film Sparkle was the fulfillment of a dream. The designer was saddened by her recent death, and said working with the music legend was a comfortable experience.
Some of the silhouettes that b created for Whitney were presented in a special portion of Wednesday’s show in honor of the recently departed star. After the first set of looks had returned backstage, the lights dimmed and a remix of Houston’s “I will always love you” played in the background. After the song intro, the lights flew on and a parade of floor-length evening gowns with colorful trains drifted down the all-white runway.
But for b, it’s not about designing just for the big names and glamorous moments. This fashion veteran loves to create for the powerful woman who has a mission.
“I love to know that I design for women that have an agenda. [M]any of the women who wear my clothing are very powerful in terms of running their own businesses, or sitting on boards, or doing great philanthropic work,” said the lanky creator.
“And so there is an event, or an agenda, or a purpose for her in terms of when she is getting dressed and where she is going,” b elaborated. The classic, all-American style of b micheal America is the timeless gift he brings to such women who wear him.
“I love when I see a consumer wearing a dress that she you know selected eight years ago and still feels current in it,” b said with satisfied feeling. “I think that’s great.”