Me, wearing all black everything.
Photo: Danielle Belton

“Tonight was a test. How many of you passed?” asked Harlem’s Fashion Row (HFR) founder Brandice Daniel of the packed house at New York City’s One World Observatory on Thursday evening. The invitation’s dress code read “All Black Everything”—which, to the glancing eye, seemed a pretty easy ask from a crowd of fashion-forward New Yorkers...unless you read between the lines.

The real test? To wear all black designers for the evening, a cause Daniel has been championing for the past 12 years, building HFR from an upstart initiative to an applauded organization with sponsors like Google, the CFDA, Gucci (where Daniel has also been recruited as an official Gucci Changemaker), Shea Moisture and BET Her—all of which were on hand last night to celebrate black designers and a collective push for diversity in the fashion industry.

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The night’s honorees were costume designer Mobolaji Dawudo, Lifetime Editor Award winner Mikki Taylor, “Image Architect” Law Roach, and his former client, the entertainer, entrepreneur, superwoman and Icon 360 Award recipient Ciara, who accepted her honor through happy tears. (Seriously, though: my goal in life is to be as happy as Ciara appears to be these days; isn’t yours?)

“The power of believing in yourself is so real,” said the cornrowed and leather-gloved singer, who savvily worked references to both her hit single “Level Up” and latest album, Beauty Marks into her acceptance speech. “[I am] truly blessed to be honored by people who are leveling up in every area of their lives,” she said. (And based on Ciara’s recent trajectory, we clearly need more people.)

Chicago native Law Roach was overwhelmed by the love in the room, which overlooked all five boroughs of New York as well as nearby New Jersey.

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“I’m just so honored to be recognized by my own people; I feel like I’m home. I love black people!” Roach exclaimed. Humble even at the height of his career, the acclaimed stylist went on to recount the words of a burgeoning black talent he’d recently met, who told him, “I know I can because you did.”

That spirit of possibility inspired both the mission and success of Harlem’s Fashion Row, which Daniel and her team have made into a brand many now clamor to be affiliated with. The theme that propelled last year was “collaboration over competition.” This year, as HFR introduced a new slate of black designers—Project Runway alum Bishme Cromartie, Kapasa Musonda, Prep Curry and Miko Underwood—the theme has evolved into “We are better together.”

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“I want you to know that you are sitting in the middle of a miracle,” Daniel told us, and looking into the star-studded crowd, it was impossible to disagree. In addition to another successful New York Fashion Week event this year, HFR has also launched the online platform In the Black, which will curate and sell designs from eight new designers every eight weeks. All in all, it marks the evolution of Daniel’s mission to disrupt the fashion status quo.

“Let’s not just fight for a seat at the table,” she said. “It’s time to own the table.”