Fashion Arts Xchange Fetes Fashion Designer Stephen Burrows at FIT

Stephen Burrows (center) at the Fashion Arts Xchange Group celebration. Photo courtesy of Fashion Arts Xchange Group.

On Tuesday, November 28, in the Haft Theater, a celebration was held in honor of Stephen Burrows, Fashion Design ’66. Burrows is the last living designer who participated in the Battle of Versailles 50 years ago in France. (Read a full profile of Burrows in an archive issue of Hue magazine.)

The program was organized by Gwen Sargeant, founder of the Fashion Arts Xchange Group Inc., a nonprofit that provides career opportunities in fashion and visual arts to minority students and professionals.

The celebration for Burrows featured opening remarks from FIT President Joyce F. Brown, acknowledging his many accomplishments, including being the first Black designer to win a Coty American Fashion Critics award. He went on to win two more over the years. Burrows, who was in attendance, was thoughtful as he reminisced about his career and expressed his gratitude for all of it.

several panelists sitting onstage in chairs with footage of Stephen Burrows' clothes behind them
Photo courtesy of Fashion Arts Xchange Group.

The program also included a panel discussion with model Alva Chinn, former model and caterer Norma Jean Darden, former creative director Nicole Fischelis, fashion stylist Freddie Lieba, and former model and fashion industry veteran Audrey Smaltz. They noted that Burrows was ahead of his time, having 10 black models wear his looks at the Battle of the Versailles.

Chinn, a longtime friend of Burrows, called him “my heart” and credited him with teaching her how to dance.

The discussions, videos, and interviews reflected on Burrows’ spirit, contributions, and influence. He is recognized for putting his stamp on color blocking, his visionary hiring of Black models at a time when it was rare, and persevering as his business changed.

CBS Saturday Morning covered the anniversary of the Battle of Versailles last weekend and interviewed Burrows (and another FIT alum, Ken Downing) on FIT’s campus. Check out the video below or on YouTube.

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