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the-way-we-wore.jpgBorn and raised in the in the Midwest, Michael McCollom began his career in New York as a fashion designer. In 1990 Vogue named him a designer to watch. With that, his designs skyrocketed to the forefront and into every major specialty store in the U.S. and Japan. His collections for the ISAIA . . . the label began to attract unbelievable media exposure and a who’s who of celebrity clientele including Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Julia Roberts.

In 1997 McCollom was chosen as Director of Image and Branding for Black Entertainment Television’s new Design Studio division. There he was the creative force behind the EXSTO XXIV VII. EXSTO was a groundbreaking men’s urban sportswear collection. With it’s fashion forward designs and cutting edge advertising, this non-denim based line found acceptance in mainstream retailers like Bloomingdale’s and specialty stores including Fred Segal Los Angeles. Extsto XXIV VII paved the way for companies such as Sean John and Rocawear.

Always a photographer, in 1997 he pickup his camera professionally for the first time. The result, striking national advertising campaigns for GIRAUDON and EXSTO featured in Vibe, Paper, Out, Source, and Details magazines. In 2002 he was given his first solo exhibition in New York’s Soho district. Titled “Boi’s Life” it consisted of large format photographs printed on cotton canvas and stretched like paintings. Subjects of this study male athletes, models, and street hustlers.

Now as creative director/designer for not one but two luxury goods collections, TRILOGY fur and fur accessories and FLEURETTE cashmere coats and accessories he continues to define his fashion point of view. Through all of his work his philosophy remains the same. “I’m a minimalist at heart,” he says. “ I like clean lines and simple shapes. Clothes should be an accessory to ones personality, not become it.” Both collections are sold in specialty stores such as Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus.

Clutch: Why did you decide to write “The Way We Wore: Black Style Then ”?
I love “personal style” and I wanted to take a look back at a times when one’s own fashion sense was more organic and less influenced by the media. Now we are bombarded by images of celebrities on the red carpet, music videos and so called reality shows all of which are wardrobed by stylist, designers, and product placement from clothing companies. It’s hard to be original now.

Clutch: When did you land on the fashion scene?
I’ve had a passion for fashion for as long as I can remember. I actually started designing in high school in Cincinnati. It was not until fall 1990 when I first made a mark in the New York scene. I was chosen to succeed the designer Isaia Rankin after his untimely death. My debut collection for ISAIA NYC was received with rave reviews from Women’s Wear Daily, Vogue and Essence. Hence, a star is born.

Clutch: How do you feel about the current state of African American fashion?
Well, I feel torn at the moment. On one hand the “hip-hop” style is undeniably the most significant American influence on global fashion ever! However, we (African Americans) are more than that one particular style. African Americans contribute to fashion on so many levels most of which go unrecognized. I would like to see a broader acceptance of all of the complexities that help to define Black Style.

Clutch: For Black America who would you say is our fashion icon?
We have a lot of style icons . . . then and now. I see them in two categories here are a few of each.
Classics: Duke Ellington, Diana Ross, Malcolm X, Diahann Carroll, and Common
Rebels: Sly Stone, Prince, Erykah Badu, Lenny Kravits, Angela Davis, and Andre Leon Talley

Clutch: Do you see any comparisons from past eras with now?
Fashion is very cyclical, it begins to repeat itself every two decades or so. We are going through an “eighties” moment. The return of leggings, skinny jeans, Nike Air Force One’s and layered looks.

Clutch: Our culture dictates the almost every trend of the fashion world. With that being true why do you think there are only so many African American designers out there?
Well, the business of fashion is very tough. With the exception of celebrity driven and urban brands (i.e. Sean John, House of Dereon and Baby Phat) manufacturers do not seem interested in backing a black designer. I hope we see another movement of African American designers like we had in the 70s and 80s with Stephen Burrows, Scott Barrie, Willi Smith, Jeffery Banks, Patrick Kelly and Isaia. There was a brief time in the 1990s when Seventh Avenue had an influx of Black designers and the media took notice however, the retailers were slow to support them. The exception to this is Tracy Reese; she stands almost alone as our only mainstream success story of recent.

Clutch: What’s your definition of a “Tastemaker”? Who do you think are Tastemakers in our day and age?
Tastemakers are those that are stylishly of the moment. You know so popular one name is enough . . . Beyonce, Diddy, Pharrell, Halle, Kanye. But there are also tastemakers around the way; those risk takers who make you take notice on your day to day. It’s their daring I love and who I chose to highlight in “The Way We Wore.”

Clutch: Being an African American fashion historian, what events and/or years do you think started the wheels to turn on our style and portrayal?
I have to think the “sixties” was a great time for us the whole “Motown” look and even the civil rights movement set a very strong fashion tone. It was all about being very polished, well groomed and refined. By the late sixties we started searching for a new identity, less assimilation. Something to show our pride and celebrate our own beauty . . . hello, the Afro and the Black Power movement. But nothing has change us more than the introduction of rap music and the advent of hip hop culture in the eighties. It came along and changes everything that has to do with style. I was great looking back on our influence while I was acting as curator Black Style Now.

Clutch: Are their any current designers that you feel can and are trying to bring back our sophisticated, glamorous and chic image of the past?
Of course, Tracy Reese and there’s B. Michael, C.D. Greene, Kai Milla and Eric Gaskins to name a few.

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Clutch: Let’s say someone twenty years from now decided to do an updated rendition of “The Way We Wore: Black Style Then ”. What celebrities do you think would make the pages?
I can see Beyonce, she is making a lot of fashion mistakes now and it will be great to look back in a few years.(smile)

Clutch: What advice and resources would you give someone if they were interested in becoming a fashion historian? Take it all in, the fabulous and the faux pas. Document as much as possible we are living history now!

Clutch: Do you have any other projects in the works?
Black Style Now at the Museum of the City of New York closed February 2007. My next project is more about the image of African Americans and how we view ourselves as well as how we are perceived by others.

Book Credits: From The Way We Wore: Black Style Then by Michael McCollom, copyright © 2006, published by Glitterati Incorporated/ www.Glitteratiincorporated.com.

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  • I give Michael McCollom kudos for being an awesome visual communicator, creative genius and mentor. I am glad to know him and be part of his everlasting creative conquest.

  • I also admire him for being a Black Style advocator. Black fashion has been staggering with racism therefore his work is a voice that speaks creative progress for the black creative community.

  • T. Lisa Dowell

    I love this interview. It was full of information that is not normally known. Kudos Mr. McCollom, you have inspired me.