The Most Influential Black Designer?

Stephen Burrows talks about dressing movie stars and the first lady, and an exhibit dedicated to his work.

Stephen Burrows (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
Stephen Burrows (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

SB: It’s the designers, and now everything is so dictated. The suits [brand executives] are picking out the models, and they don’t want personality. We liked personalities back then, and I’m sorry they don’t still like that, because it takes the life out of the clothes, the way the models are today.

TR: Also, back in the ’80s, there seemed to be more black designers succeeding, from Willi Smith to —

SB: Yeah, you don’t have that today.

TR: Why is that?

SB: The money. The funding. It’s hard finding funding. It’s gotten even harder as the years go by. There are so many designers today that it’s saturated. If you don’t have big money behind you, it’s hard to stay in the loop.

TR: What advice would you give to an aspiring young designer of color? 

SB: Learn something about the business side of designing — the commercial side — because you have to be a little commercial and at the same time hope you can have the artistic thing that you want. But you still have to sell things to stay in business. You have to compromise a little bit.

TR: How did it feel when first lady Michelle Obama wore one of your designs?

SB: Great. She wore it twice! [Laughs.] That’s unusual. I was very flattered.

TR: Have you ever spoken to her? 

SB: No, it was all done through a boutique in Chicago.

TR: Besides this exhibit, where can people find your clothes? At upcoming Fashion Week?

SB: Hopefully. It’s not confirmed yet, but you can also go to

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.