Stephen Burrows, the natural-born fashion icon who designs clothing for top celebrities

Stephen Nartey April 19, 2023
Stephen Burrows/Photo credit: @stephenburrowsworld via instagram

Stephen Burrows, the disco-age designer, is a celebrated fashion icon known for taking American fashion to the global stage. To his family, his success in the global fashion space is not far-fetched, Stephen had always been trapped in the world of design since childhood. He grew up seeing his mother, Octavia Pennington, and father, Gerald Burrows, actively involved in fashion.

Both parents worked for the Hattie Carnegie label in the Garment District of New York City as sample makers. It wasn’t difficult roping Stephen into the family tradition, as he showed great interest in the cutting and stitching business. Even before he enrolled in high school, he designed his first pair of pants out of a leather trench coat that warmed his grandmother’s wardrobe.

He also had his early training from his grandmother, Beatrice Simmons, who taught him how to cut, sew, and craft his own designs in high school. It was under her guidance that Stephen crafted his signature “zig-zag” stitch, according to L’Officiel USA. To enhance his skill, he applied to the Philadelphia Museum College of Art and later moved to New York City to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Stephen did not waste time to set his vision rolling when he graduated from fashion school, he opened a boutique in New York City with a friend, Roz Rubenstein, for Bonwit Teller. However, during that same period, he got a job with Gerald Stutz, the acclaimed Henri Bendel clothing store on Fifth Avenue, whose upper floors attract the fashion world’s top designers.

Ironically, it was not the association with Henri Bendel that did the magic, but Stephen’s ready-to-wear boutique known as “Stephen Burrows World” that shot him to fame. He is the first African American designer to have attained the international buzz around his work, and revolutionized the American fashion industry at a time when it was largely influenced by European fashion designers.

His techniques and designs were remarkable, according to the Council of fashion designers of America. Stephen designed his clothing line with fabrics like wool and rayon jersey into close fit and slim silhouettes, which became known as Burrow’s signature, and is still in vogue today. He also pioneered the “lettuce edge” which is still popular among many fashion circles today.

His most notable legacy is the Coty Award he won in 1973, 1974, and 1977. When the infamous benefit fashion show was organized in the 70s, it was hugely monopolized by French designers. However, Stephen helped to change the trend when American designers, for the first time, participated in the infamous benefit show organized at the Palace Versailles, France, by Eleanor Lambert in 1973.

The French team was represented by Pierre Cardin, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, and Emanuel Ungaro, while the American counterparts had Stephen Burrows, Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, and Anne Klein. It was at this stage Stephen became a household name in the fashion industry. His collection has been worn by Cher, Diana Ross, Liza Minnelli, Oprah Winfrey, Farrah Fawcett, Taylor Swift, Naomi Watts, and Barbara Streisand, among other top celebrities.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 19, 2023


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