Black History Month: Celebrating Fashion Designers Willi Smith and Duro Olowu.

The Costume and Fashion Special Collection at Chelsea Library celebrates Black History Month this October.

Chelsea Library is home to the Costume and Fashion Collection, a treasure trove of books and magazines chronicling the history of Costume and Fashion. This also includes an archive of British Vogue dating from 1923 to the present.

The Costume and Fashion Collection is supported by the digital resource Bloomsbury Fashion Central (https://www.bloomsburyfashioncentral.com/library-card-log-in?linkPassUrl=https://www.bloomsburyfashioncentral.com/), a comprehensive research tool for students, professionals and anyone interested in fashion and is free to use online with your library card.

For this year’s Black History Month, we are featuring the work of two designers: Willi Smith (1948-1987), whose important legacy has often been overlooked and Duro Olowu, the Nigerian born, British designer, who in 2003 opened his first boutique in the North Kensington. Both featured in major exhibitions in 2020.

The cover of Willi Smith: Street Couture

Willi Smith

It has been over thirty years since Willi Smith’s death and last year saw the first retrospective of his work – Willi Smith: Street Couture at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York.

 Willi Smith was born in Philadelphia in 1948. Initially he studied fashion illustration but later went on to study Fashion at Parsons School of Design in New York. Early in his career he worked for Arnold Stassi, a designer known for his high society ball gowns. He then worked for Digit Inc. Sportswear, where he quickly made name for himself and was nominated for the prestigious Coty Award in 1972. After Digits Inc. went bankrupt in 1973, he unsuccessfully set up a company with his sister Toukie Smith and then in 1976 while in India, inspired by the cotton fabrics and street fashion, he and his friend Laurie Mallet came up with the idea of setting up WilliWear Ltd and by the time they return he had designed a capsule collection that was ready to go.

WilliWear quickly captured the interest of the fashion industry. His designs crossed over from sportswear to couture. His clothes were oversized, colourful and gender fluid. He was the first designer to unite womenswear and menswear under the same label. This is echoed in his unisex patterns for Butterwick and McCall’s, which still seem radical today.

Willi Smith’s design ethos was that his clothes should be functional, fun, affordable and cross boundaries of race, gender and social status. He was inspired by how people on the street dressed. He called it Street Couture for his seminal Fall 1983 Collection. It was urban not ballroom. He famously said, ‘Being black has a lot to do with being a good designer. My eye will go quicker to what the pimp is wearing than to someone in a gray suit and tie…Most of these designers who run to Paris for color and fabric combinations should go to church on Sunday in Harlem. It’s all right there’. (Vogue online July 2020)

Willi Smith was one of the few successful ‘non-white’ designers at the time to navigate the fashion industry on his own terms and by the time of his death in 1987, aged thirty-nine from an AIDS related illness, he had become the most successful black designer in history with annual sales of over twenty-five million dollars and selling in five hundred stores worldwide.

Willi Smith pioneered Streetwear which has influenced generations of designers. Throughout his career he worked creatively with artists, architects, filmmakers and dancers. Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer were amongst the artists who he worked with on his ground-breaking artist t-shirts in 1984 – now ubiquitous in the industry. He started collaborating with Christo and Jeanne-Claude in 1967 and in 1985 designed the worker’s uniforms for the wrapping of the Pont Neuf in Paris. The radical architects SITE created his urban street vision for his show rooms and with artists Nam June Pak and Juan Downey his fashion shows became more performance than catwalk.

So, it seems strange that his legacy has largely been overlooked. Perhaps it was because his career was cut short, maybe it was also due to ‘the negativity associated with AIDS at the time’ (James Wines, SITE, Surface Magazine Jan 2020). But it is also true, as Kim Jenkins, founder of the Fashion and Race Database says ‘…fashion history for the most part, has been white history. On the whole, we have designers of color missing from our textbooks’ (WMagazine Jan 2020).

The cover of Duro Olowu: Seeing.

Duro Olowu 

Duro Olowu is a Nigerian born British designer. In 1998 he opened his first boutique off  the Ledbury Road in Notting Hill with Elaine Golding, called Olowu Golding, where he showcased  his early designs  and Elaine Golding’s shoes. Then in 2004 he launched his womenswear label.  His  Spring-Summer 2005 Collection was an instant success and he was named New Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards, the only designer to receive the award prior to their first runway show. His empire line dress with flowing sleeves, dubbed the ‘Duro’ became a sensation, hailed ‘Dress of the Year’ by both American and British Vogue.

Duro Olowu punctuates designing with curating. He moves with ease between Fashion and  the Art worlds. Last year he guest curated Seeing at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, where he brought together over 300 works of art selected from public and private collections from around the Chicago area arranging them in thematic groups.

Previously in 2016 he curated ‘Making and Unmaking’ at the Camden Arts Centre in London. Mixing and placing works which included photographs, paintings, sculpture and fabrics. The exhibition was like wandering through his stream of consciousness. There was a sense of freedom, where seemingly unconnected work flowed from room to room in a kind of beautiful choreography. In the interview with Glen Ligon for the exhibition he explained, ‘…the process of discovery and experimentation is very empowering and that is what ‘Making and Unmaking’ is ultimately about’ .

Duro Olowu’s designs are a sophisticated  play of pattern, colour and cut, suffused with the influence of African textiles, with their symbolism and how they translate to the street fashion of a continent and then melded seamlessly with western couture to create designs that are both powerful and subtle at the same time.

The exhibition publications: Willi Smith: Street Couture, Alexandra Cunningham Cameron, Rizzoli Electa, 2020 and Duro Olowu: Seeing, Naomi Beckwith, Prestel, 2020  are on display in Chelsea Library during the month of October in the Costume and Fashion Collection.

For further information on Willi Smith, the Willi Smith Community Archive created inconjunction with Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum gives personal accounts and insights into the designer by people who knew and worked with him. https://willismitharchive.cargo.site/

You can also listen to Duro Olowu in conversation with Valerie Steele, fashion historian, who also curates  Bloomsbury Fashion Central’s fashion photograhphy archive. The conversation is from the Series: at home: Artists in Conversation, Yale Centre for British Art.  https://youtu.be/71ZdF_YVVbQ

Nadia, Chelsea Library.

Online Event- IT and Research on Friday 19 March 2021

Need help with your research? Not sure how to research? Trying to find online sources for your project? This might be the workshop for you!

 

The Workshop takes place on Friday 19th March 2021 at 11am to 12noon. To book your free tickets, please visit: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/it-research-workshop-tickets-137421199507 .

 

About this Event:

We understand that research can be a daunting and difficult task, here at Westminster Reference  Library, we’ve teamed up with the specialists at London South Bank University to give you some tips, tricks and advice on how to undertake your research and how to best utilise your online software!

 

Topics include:

  • An introductory digital skills session into Microsoft Office: including Word, PowerPoint and Excel!
  • Literature hunting – What is a journal article? How to use Google Scholar & learning how to evaluate information!
  • IT Security – Protecting your device and your files, avoiding dangerous sites and documents!

These workshops are designed for students, researchers or anyone working on a project that involves searching the internet for information. Whether you’re just starting or a more advanced researcher, we’ve got something for everyone!

Janice Johnson is the Digital Skills Training Manager at the Digital Skills Centre, London South Bank University. She has over 16 years’ experience teaching digital skills to staff, students and professional organisations.

Emma Perry is an Information Skills Librarian within the library at London South Bank University. Having worked there for over 8 years, her main role is to teach students in classes and one-to-ones about research, evaluating information and referencing.

Please note, this will be a Microsoft Teams meeting/Teams Broadcast,  and, although you do not have to have Microsoft Teams downloaded to your device, you will get a better experience if you have the app.

***Please avoid using Safari – we have had reports that Safari users have issues accessing Teams live broadcasts. Please try using Chrome or any other browser – most people who experience problems when signing in find them resolved if they try using a different browser. We are really sorry for the inconvenience this may cause and are working on finding a solution.

Safer Internet Day

This year, Safer Internet Day will be celebrated on Tuesday 9th of February, aiming to explore reliability online- in conjunction with saferinternet.org.uk

There are lots of fun and interesting information you can find online such as blogs, clothing websites, social media outlets- just to name a couple. But it’s important to separate the accurate information form counterfeit materials. As parents, especially, we want our children to explore the digital world, encouraging them to do so through the correct resources.

Below you can find some tips on how to help your children being safe online:

1: Never share personal information

This applies both to parents and children. Parents should think before they share posts, photos and links. They perform as role models for their children, so they should be responsible of what they are sharing online. Parents also, need to explain to their children what it means “personal information”, such as your last name, your local address, pictures or posts on social media and why they should be cautious about sharing. Finally, they should explain to their children that they can change the settings to make their account private so just people they know can see their activity.

2: Monitor their online activities

Parents should be aware of what their children are looking for on the internet. Ask your children to show you which are their favourite websites, applications and games. This will help you to understand better their activity online and to possibly talk to them about any concerns you might have. You can also use parental controls software, which can give you a pretty good picture of your child’s internet activity and can alert you to problems. But it can also inform you about your children’s new interests.

3: Talk and listen your children

Become friends with your children, so they may not hide anything from you. Talk regularly with your children about how they use technology and where are they looking for the information, they need. Explain them that the internet offers a huge range of information, but not all of them are accurate. Having conversations with your children is the best way to support them.

 

4: Set an example

Talk to your child about your own experience of the online world. Show them sites and apps that you like to explore and explain why you like them. Show them how to use the internet in a positive way – to research things, to do homework, to talk to family, and to find out about the world. This helps them to have a critical eye. Share with them your own less positive experience online and what you have learnt from this.

5: Check the online content with your child

It is important to reassure them that they can always talk to you if they accidently come across with an upsetting content. Parents should stay calm and to do not overreact if their children have seen something that made them feel worried or upset. They should help them to learn how to avoid similar content in the future and to report any content they find disturbing.

Recommended Reads

This week’s Book of the Week is The Hunting Party, by Lucy Foley. New to the crime writing scene, Foley has already been shortlisted for a number of awards for her chilling writing style. We have put together a list of similar crime novels for you to enjoy. Happy reading!

 

no going back book coverNo Going Back, by Sheena Kamal

Nora has a talent for reading people and discovering their deepest secrets, but this skill can’t solve all her problems. Nora’s teenage daughter, Bonnie, is being targeted by a Chinese crime organisation. After rescuing her daughter from their clutches two years ago, Nora must now track them down to ensure the crime bosses do not enact their revenge. Her search will span the globe, but Nora must do what is necessary to keep herself and her family safe.

 

dear wife book coverDear Wife, by Kimberly Belle

Beth is on the run, covering her tracks to escape an abusive husband. Sabine is missing, her car lying abandoned, seemingly kidnapped or worse. As the police search for any leads, the case becomes progressively convoluted. Where is Sabina? And who is Beth?

 

 

we begin at the end book coverWe Begin at the End, by Chris Whitaker

Vincent King, recently released from prison after doing 30 years for murder, is back in Cape Haven, California. But not everyone is happy about his return; especially Star, the sister of the woman Vincent murdered all those years ago. When Star’s daughter, Duchess, inadvertently sets off a chain of events leading to tragic consequences, the past appears to repeat itself. Can the family escape this doomed cycle?

 

lakewood book coverLakewood, by Megan Giddings

When Lena’s grandmother dies, the scale of her family’s debt is revealed. Lena decides to drop out of college and take a job in the mysterious town of Lakewood, Michigan. On paper, the job looks perfect. Medical expenses covered, excellent pay… All for the price of secrecy. Behind closed doors, Lakewood is home to a programme of intense human experimentation. But underneath the utopian promise that these medical experiments could ‘change the world’ is a very real threat to black bodies. How can Lena protect her family when she cannot tell them the truth?

 

These books are available to download from our cloudLibrary here.  All you need is an RBKC library card and if you are not a member, just click here – it’s completely free to join and use our resources. 

Celebrating black voices in literature – classics

If the last few weeks have taught us anything it is that we should be lifting black voices, authors, artists, etc every day of the year, not just when there’s a protest or when it is Black History Month. With that in mind we searched through our online catalogue to find the best in black literature and over the next few weeks we’ll be highlighting different genres from non-fiction to Young Adult.

This week we’ve chosen four classic books that have stood the test of time and continue to be read and read again by literature lovers. Filled with complicated characters experiencing the full spectrum of emotion these books are rich and timeless. Continue reading “Celebrating black voices in literature – classics”

Celebrating black voices in literature – young adult

If the last few weeks have taught us anything it is that we should be lifting black voices, authors, artists, etc every day of the year, not just when there’s a protest or when it is Black History Month. With that in mind we searched through our online catalogue to find the best in black literature and over the next few weeks we’ll be highlighting different genres from non-fiction to Young Adult.

This week we’ve chosen Young Adult fiction and non-fiction which is at the forefront of the fight for diversity in publishing. Young Adult readers are demanding change and campaigning for publishers to open the doors to diverse voices and we couldn’t be prouder of them. Continue reading “Celebrating black voices in literature – young adult”

Let’s make candied peel

Our book of the week is The Other Boleyn Girl which follows the story of Mary Boleyn, sister to the infamous Anne Boleyn. In a novel focused on ambition and intrigue we thought we’d focus on the simpler sweeter things. A favourite treat of the Tudor court was candied peel and before it was made with sugar it used to be made with honey in a process that took 10 days.

Luckily, we now have a simpler recipe that we can follow to make candied peel that will take about an hour. The result is an achingly sweet peel that is great in cakes and lasts in a tightly sealed jar for up to six weeks. So, grab your fruit and sugar and let’s make candied peel. Continue reading “Let’s make candied peel”

Celebrating black voices in literature – adult fiction

If the last few weeks have taught us anything it is that we should be lifting black voices, authors, artists, etc every day of the year, not just when there’s a protest or when it is Black History Month. With that in mind we searched through our online catalogue to find the best in black literature and over the next few weeks we’ll be highlighting different genres from non-fiction to Young Adult.

This week we’ve chosen four adult contemporary fiction books. We have a long way to go before black voices are as elevated as they should be in the literary world but if we continue to fight for diverse voices at every level then we can hopefully see more black authors nominated and winning the big literary prizes. Continue reading “Celebrating black voices in literature – adult fiction”

Recommended Reads

This week, our Book of the Week is The Butchers, by Ruth Gilligan. The Butchers deals with the subjects of the Irish borderlands, Catholicism vs Celtic Tradition, and family relationships. We have selected a list of similar books you might enjoy.   Continue reading “Recommended Reads”

Celebrating black voices in literature – non-fiction

If the last few weeks have taught us anything it is that we should be lifting black voices, authors, artists, etc every day of the year, not just when there’s a protest or when it is Black History Month. With that in mind we searched through our online catalogue to find the best in black literature and over the next few weeks we’ll be highlighting different genres from non-fiction to Young Adult. We’ve chosen four books this week that look at antiracism and help us understand race, bias, and privilege. Continue reading “Celebrating black voices in literature – non-fiction”