4 Questions With Patrick Robinson

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The National Portrait Gallery recently premiered AT&T Celebrates "The Black List," an exhibition featuring 50 large-sized portraits of accomplished African Americans that will remain on display until April 22, 2012.


"The Black List" was conceived, photographed and filmed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and was subsequently made into a documentary that aired on HBO in 2008.

Patrick Robinson, former executive vice president of design at Gap, Inc., is one of the 50 distinguished African Americans included in "The Black List." The Root caught up with Robinson at a special reception held at the gallery.

The Root: How does it feel to be "blacklisted"?

Patrick Robinson: When I walked into the room, I could actually see my portrait from afar. Knowing the people who got their picture taken makes me want to go out and do more. It makes me feel like I want to live up to the high level of achievement of those photographed because I truly admire them.

TR: What kind of response have you gotten since being featured on The Black List, the HBO documentary, and now this traveling portrait exhibition?

PR: I remember when it came out how many people stopped me and wanted to talk to me about my story, my family. I was traveling abroad this summer, and a person randomly came up to me in a bar and shook my hand and said how inspiring it was to meet me up close. So it's been huge. I still always wondered why Timothy wanted me in the exhibit. I'm so in awe of the people selected.


TR: Do you have your own personal Black List?

PR: This is a group of people who have changed the world. They've changed American culture but they've also changed the world. Changed the way people look at the world. There's a wide range of people. People from so many fields. And you can stereotype blacks in certain categories, like entertainment and sports, but this really shows the beauty and breadth. There's so much to black culture that you don't have to be black to appreciate. It's about how people have done amazing things and work hard.


TR: What's the biggest challenge facing African Americans in the fashion industry?

PR: That there aren't any. There aren't a lot of blacks that really break through and really become household names. There's been a lot of great ones — Gordon Henderson, for example — but there's not a lot. And I think blacks have such a beautiful story about clothing and we truly understand what it means to express ourselves through clothes. A lot of my friends are entertainers and they all want to do clothes because they like expressing themselves through clothes. So I'm surprised that not more [big-name fashion designers] are African Americans.


Abdul Ali frequently writes about culture for The Root. Follow him on Twitter.