Stephen Burrows

Fashion Designer / United States / Stephen Burrows

Stephen Burrows’s enduring contribution to the foundation of American style and his distinguished career as a fashion designer is recognized by the American Fashion Industry with a star on New York City’s Fashion Walk of Fame.

This extraordinary career in fashion also includes three American Fashion Critics’ Coty Awards and a Board of Directors’ Special Tribute Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), in recognition of Burrows’s distinctive artistry and achievements.

Early Years

After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1966, Burrows launched a ready-to-wear collection with friend Roz Rubenstein for Bonwit Teller in 1969. Later that year Joel Schumacher, Visual Director at Henri Bendel, introduced Burrows to Bendel’s legendary president, Geraldine Stutz. Impressed, Stutz hired the designer on the spot.

The Boutique “Stephen Burrows World” opened at Henri Bendel in 1970, thrusting Burrows into the limelight. He was an immediate success, with a client roster that included Cher, Diana Ross, Lauren Bacall, Liza Minnelli, Jerry Hall, Lauren Hutton, and Barbara Streisand. No stranger to celebrity, Burrows was also responsible for propelling a few other notable names, as he helped launch the careers of models like Pat Cleveland, Iman, Alva Chinn, Naomi Sims, and Bethann Hardison. The industry took notice, and Burrows was nominated for a Coty Award, fashion’s highest honor, in both 1971 and 1972.

The World Stage

Stephen Burrows was the first African American fashion designer to achieve international acclaim. His vision and design techniques were considered revolutionary during a time when European fashion houses strongly influenced American design. With the advent of stretch fabrics like wool and rayon jersey, Burrows crafted a close fit and slim silhouette, which he maintains today. He also originated the “lettuce edge,” a finishing touch that came to be known as a Burrows signature and remains widely used today.

In 1973 renowned fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert organized a benefit fashion show in Versailles, France. It became a defining moment in American fashion history. The show was a collaboration between American and French designers, and participants included the most influential of the day—Pierre Cardin, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, and Emanuel Ungaro representing France; Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, and Stephen Burrows representing the United States. An international sensation, the event earned acclaim for American fashion on the runway and rave reviews for Burrows. Building on this success, Burrows was recognized with Coty Awards in 1973, 1974, and again in 1977. Urged by Halston to set up shop on Seventh Avenue, Burrows left Henri Bendel and opened his name-branded fashion lines, licensing products that included fragrances, sunglasses, and furs.

Stephen Burrows World

On February 13, 2002, the “Stephen Burrows World” Boutique reopened at Henri Bendel with an event dubbed “the party of the season” by Vogue. The collection was applauded by many, including the American, French, and Japanese editions of Vogue, the New York Times, New York Magazine, and Essence. Burrows was welcomed back to the industry with a star on the Seventh Avenue Fashion Walk of Fame. In 2003 the U. S. Home Shopping Network (HSN) introduced “Alva by Burrows” with equal success.

In May 2006, the CFDA honored Burrows with “The Board of Directors Special Tribute,” adding the designer to the ranks of such previous luminaries as Tom Ford and Alexander McQueen. Around the same time, Burrows was invited by the Chambre Syndicale de la Mode to return to Paris to present his Spring/Summer 2007 Collection in the Carousel de Louvre. “BURROWS IN PARIS” was presented to resounding applause as part of French Fashion Week. Fashion critic Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune praised Burrows as “the Master of matte jersey and color combinations!” In addition to “Stephen Burrows World,” Burrows expanded his company to include a number of labels drawn from various points of inspiration. “S by Burrows” was created for a venture with Home Shopping Europe (HSN) in Munich, Germany, while “Everyday Girl” was inspired by Anna Cleveland, daughter to muse and model Pat Cleveland; and “SB73,” a cut and sew knit line was developed based on Burrows’s hallmark, color-block creations of the 1970s.

Burrows’s extraordinary work as a fashion designer has been the subject of a series of retrospectives: in “1940-1970s Cut and Style” at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology; “The 1970s” at The Tribute Gallery in New York; and “Back to Black: Art, Cinema, and the Racial Imaginary” at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in June 2005. That same year he was the subject of a documentary by filmmaker Jenny Grenville and is the subject of another documentary under development by Patrick di Santo.

In Good Company

In 2010 the Museum of the City of New York named Burrows to a unique list celebrating those who helped define New York, alongside such luminaries as the former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Estée Lauder, the Astors, the Rockefellers, the Roosevelts, and a number of New York City mayors. It was a banner year for Burrows, capped by First Lady Michelle Obama's choosing to wear a Burrows jersey pantsuit to a Washington D.C. event. Remarking on the significance, Vogue wrote, “It was a wonderful acknowledgement of Burrows, one of the great African-American designers and a Harlem resident known for his inventive cuts and bias technique.”

Also in 2010, Burrows celebrated the grand opening of his new showroom and design studio in the heart of New York City’s Garment Center. The event also marked the launch of Burrows’s new, 16-piece collection, designed exclusively for Target to coincide with the opening of Target’s first store in New York City. The new Burrows collection for Target was offered in more than 50 Target stores across the country.

The year 2011 marks Burrows’s 45th year as a designer. It began significantly, with Burrows co-hosting the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s celebration of models in the famed 1973 Versailles fashion show that had altered perceptions of American fashion’s presentation on the world stage, nearly 40 years ago. “I could not think of a more deserving group of women and dear friends who helped us define a new era in fashion as we began our careers all those years ago, nor a more defining organization to deliver this recognition,” Burrows said afterward.

Today, Stephen Burrows continues to be inspired by music, dance, and the movement of the body, producing revolutionary clothing that is soft, comfortable, and chic. His innovative designs make bold use of color, structure, and fabric weight. Women's Wear Daily remarked in its review of Burrows’s latest collection at his new showroom that he "brought a dose of old Seventh Avenue glamour to his New York Fashion Show.”

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