A selection of fashion’s most dynamic Black designers have translated Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings into wearable art.
In April, Basquiat’s estate unveiled “King Pleasure,” an exhibition showcasing Basquiat’s work and life. Now, the exhibit is introducing a new element: “Those Who Dress Better,” a collection of Basquiat-inspired fashion.
Named after Basquiat’s famous saying, “those who dress better can receive Christ,” the collection pays homage to the artist with pieces from nine fashion brands helmed by Black designers and creative directors. Unveiled at a reception on December 7, “Those Who Dress Better” will exist within the larger King Pleasure exhibition until it closes on January 1.
Curated by none other than Black Fashion Fair, “Those Who Dress Better” features nine brands: Advisry, Bed on Water, Brandon Blackwood, Hanifa, Head of State, Homage Year, Johnny Nelson, Theophilio, and Who Decides War. Some designed garments exclusively for display, while others created items for purchase at Black Fashion Fair’s website.
I think I speak for many Black fashion girlies when I say I could hardly wait to see the show. After perusing the gallery, I asked Antoine Grégory, founder of Black Fashion Fair, how he selected each featured designer.
“I wanted to make sure that I got to collaborate with designers from NY who shared similar ideas in their own practice that remind me of Basquiat,” Grégory said.
“With Brandon [Blackwood], he does an amazing job at embroidery and patchwork. With Edvin Thompson there was this amazing catalog of family images from the Basquiats that the world had never seen, and [Black Fashion Fair] had done a collaboration with Theophilio where we [highlighted] Black family portraits, so we wanted to do that for Basquiat.”
One word to describe the exhibition: intentional. From the wall panels describing the involvement of Basquiat’s family to the intricate detail the designers employed in translating his art to fabric, everything was thoughtfully crafted.
“Most of the artwork in here has never been seen before,” Grégory told me while adjusting one of the displays. “This is the first time the family themselves has put on an exhibition, and this is the first time that most of his work has ever been licensed. And these Black designers who are super talented are the first ones who have access to it.
“How often do you see Black designers collaborating with artists of this caliber? This is unprecedented and I am very, very proud of it,” Grégory continued.
While moving through the gallery, it becomes clear which of Basquiat’s works inspired each designer’s contribution. Garments and jewelry are displayed in the same vicinity as the artworks they reference. Some connections are more apparent than others — for example, Theophilio’s suit jacket is placed directly next to “CABEZA, 1982,” the painting it adapts.
When asking Bed on Water’s Shanel Campbell about her design process, she explained, “I took about two days going through the work available, identifying which pieces were a little bit more removed from the rest of his collection and chose those to showcase his range.”
Campbell contributed two stunning pieces to the collection: a floor-length dress and a two piece ensemble. She even wore a custom Basquiat-inspired top to the opening.
When revisiting the displays replicating Basquiat’s childhood home, I noticed that Advisry’s dress doesn’t reference a piece of art, but the artist’s dining room wallpaper. “That look is supposed to be emblematic of [Basquiat’s] early life,” founder and designer Keith Herron revealed.
“In front of that [dining] room there’s a bunch of sketchpad drawings and doodles of Jean-Michel’s. In one, he wrote ‘conveyor belt of life,’ and it just stuck with me,” Herron said, explaining that this phrase inspired him to use Basquiat’s entire life to inform his designs.
The opening of “Those Who Dress Better” witnessed a community come together to honor one of their own. It was clear to me how much care, talent, and support went into bringing this experience to life. I watched designers admire each other's work, Grégory ensure that each ensemble was perfectly placed, and fashion lovers line up to take it all in. The presentation was Black fashion’s night out, and it was one for the books.