Grandassa: the fashion show that changed how African-American women were featured in beauty magazines

Stephen Nartey December 11, 2022
Grandassa model. Museum of the City of New York via NY Post

It took off as a fashion show to offer Black models an opportunity to exhibit their beauty and sense of taste. But, it ended up stimulating overwhelming support from the Black community to change how people of African descent are framed.

The day was January 28, 1962, when the African Jazz-Art Society & Studios put together a team of creatives to organize a show titled Naturally 62, as reported by the BBC. It attracted a sizable gathering outside the Purple Manor, a nightclub in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City.

The format of the fashion show was a deviation from how beauty was portrayed in the Western sense. The models on the stage wore afro hair; their costumes were inspired by designs from Lagos, Nigeria, Accra, Ghana and Nairobi, Kenya.

The models had darker skins and their figure size was not the everyday slender-looking shaped woman. It reflected the African woman who was dark and beautiful and who was not featured in fashion magazines. The models were described as Grandassa, which originated from the term Grandassaland which references Africa by Black Nationalist Carlos Cooks.

That was how the Black is Beautiful Movement began and influenced fashion trends in the 1960s to 70s. Photographer Kwame Brathwaite said when the movement began it stoked a lot of controversies because it shifted from what was the norm in the fashion industry. Brathwaite was in charge of archiving the images of the show. He compiled a sizable volume of photographs from the show that featured young Black teenagers.

His success was because he had a camera with him everywhere he went and ensured no opportunity was missed. He had a collection of pictures in his archives that stretched over many years following the show.

Aside from Grandassa models, Brathwaite also captured moments of notable Black personalities such as Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder among others in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The photographs Brathwaite took became the reference point and rallying voice in the mainstream media for the movement and raised awareness about the representation of Black people in the media.

The message he hoped would be carried across resonated with participants of the movement. This is because they wanted women and men of African descent to become self-aware of their personalities and standing in society. They were encouraged to listen to Marcus Garvey.

The fashion started with eight models who represented the maiden Grandassa models. They were women selected from the community. The women were socially conscious because of their association with the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement. Some were educators, writers and stylists who believed in the philosophy of Marcus Garvey.

Brathwaite’s son, Kwame Brathwaite Jr, who has also been archiving his father’s images for six years, said the message was about mental consciousness about Black independence, empowerment and a sense of community. It sought to portray the positives of being Black and pushed away the prejudices held by some uninformed members of society.

The Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina has honored the work of Brathwaite by adding his collections to their gallery.

Last Edited by:seo zimamedia Updated: December 12, 2022


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