This is a photograph of Lois K. Alexander, founder of the legendary Harlem Institute of Fashion (opened in 1966) and the Black Fashion Museum (in 1979). There should be tomes written about Alexander, the Institute, and the Museum which recently found a permanent home at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. But the paucity of academic or journalistic research devoted to them speaks to the critical and curatorial neglect of major aspects of U.S. fashion history. The initial idea for Of Another Fashion was, in fact, sparked when I learned about the Harlem Institute of Fashion and is driven, in part, by my continued astonishment that many fashion scholars, curators, and designers know nothing about it.
The only publication I’ve found that offers any details about the Institute is a book Alexander created and published called Blacks in the History of Fashion (published by the Harlem Institute of Fashion in 1982), which is no longer in print. The above image is from this book.
In an article for a local Memphis, Tennessee newspaper (12 November 1978), Alexander explains the significance of the Museum:
The Museum will change the image that black designers are newfound talent. Most of today’s designers tell me they learned to sew from their grandmothers, and that’s who I want to talk to. I want the clothes their grandmothers made.