What happens when a young designer wakes up to find Beyoncé wearing her clothes? Samantha Black, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based designer of ready-to-wear line Sammy B., can tell you: “My phone was blowing up.”
Why? While Black was asleep, dreaming up sexy leisurewear worthy of Queen Bey to wear on her private jet, Instagram caught fire. Zerina Akers, one of Beyoncé’s stylists—as well as a friend of Black’s—had styled the star in a Sammy B. two-piece neoprene sweatsuit with a belted kimono-style Flatbush jacket ($150) and skinny Tony pop track pant ($110) in burgundy with contrasting pink athletic stripes.
Hearing the news, Black screamed out loud and then ran to check her website. The $260 two-piece sweatsuit had sold out within hours—with 150 orders pending.
Black, who also happens to be model-gorgeous, is a two-time Project Runway contestant, competing in season 11 and All-Stars season 4. My dear friend Isaac Mizrahi, who judged her Sammy B. creations during the series, described her work to me as “like Helmut Lang—if his style was slightly more feminine.”
Since Black has her clothes handmade at a family-owned factory in Brooklyn, she had to shut down her website immediately and hustle to gather all the fabric she could find to fulfill the Beyhive’s needs. What is it about that sweatsuit that’s got everyone so hot?
“I think people loved it because for $260 you could get something Beyoncé wore,” she told me.
No sooner was she up and running again than fast-fashion knock-off artists Fashion Nova produced a copy of the Sammy B. two-piece sweatsuit, even making the unusual move of pricing the ensemble significantly higher than the designer had priced her own handmade version. Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but for struggling young designers, it’s tantamount to a poison kiss.
Black Twitter swooped in to to defend against the appropriators, migrating to Instagram to flood Fashion Nova’s page, only to have their 30 comments vanish without reply. Meanwhile, sales slowed at Sammy B., which was no match for the more than 10 million Instagram followers scouring Fashion Nova for celebrity look-alike outfits that hit the market, sometimes within hours of appearing on the red carpet.
Having worked as a denim designer for top-selling contemporary brands like Aeropostale, Kenneth Cole, Jordache and Jessica Simpson, Black is no stranger to the wear and tear of the rag trade. She credits the Beyoncé push with bringing in the funding she needed to finish the branding for her company.
The next move? Taking the clothes on the road to pop-up shops around the country, with the first one planned at the headquarters of BuzzFeed in New York City.
Even though being knocked off was a setback, Black knows that being blessed by Beyoncé was a giant leap forward, one she’s ready to take advantage of while the crowd is still looking her way.
Celebrity is the engine that propels designer business forward; to date, Issa Rae, Yara Shahidi and Fantasia have all worn Black’s clothes. Now she’s hoping it all adds up to being in a more financially stable place that will allow Sammy B. to soar.