The fashion moment is everything. It’s that je ne sais quoi that drives men and women to an image, a look, an energy that is expressed through style, through attitude and profile. The fashion moment is when the fates align and the image transcends and comes alive.
Ohio-born designed Michael McCollom began his career in New York as design director of the ISAIA NYC collection and was named one of the “Designers to Watch” by Vogue in 1990. Recognized as a designer and a photographer. McCollom’s clients have included Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton and Julia Roberts.
McCollom is also the author of The Way We Wore: Black Style Then, which has just been re-released by Glitterati Incorporated. Featuring snapshots from the personal photo albums of over 150 black men and women, the book features never-before-published photographs of Oprah Winfrey, James Baldwin, Iman, Naomi Campbell, Tyran Banks, Patrick Kelly, Kimora Lee, Bobby Short, Bethann Hardison, and Portia LaBeija, among countless others.
From the Harlem Renaissance to the birth of Hip Hop, The Way We Wore celebrates the personal style of African Americans over the larger part of the twentieth century. Each image reminds us of the space where the public and private spaces intersect, where style is the bridge between the individual to the world, telling a story of self through the fashion moment.
The Click spoke with McCollom about his personal style moments, about the things that he both saw and created that shaped and influenced his world.
I was excited to recently discover this photo of my mother. In it she has on a leather zip-front jumpsuit and my father is wearing a tuxedo with a satin turtleneck. Not sure the event, maybe a cocktail party or a wedding reception. The look is cocktail casual.
It reminds me of when I was about eight years old, and we would go to the drive-in every week. The drive-in had two screens, front-to-back. I remember seeing the poster for a movie they were showing called “Naked Under Leather” and I would always ask my parents, “Can we go see it?” And my parents would always answer, “It’s not for you.” However, the image of that half unzipped leather jumpsuit remained etched in my brain.
Well, imagine my wonder and surprise the evening when my mom came out of her bedroom in the leatherette jumpsuit, and that’s the first thing I thought: “Naked Under Leather.” That one-ness of a jumpsuit, the simplicity and purity would come to play a big influence in my fashion aesthetic and career.
For my first show for ISAIA (This was the first collection after the untimely death of ISAIA RANKIN in 1989.) it was all about the catsuit. Designed to look like a scuba bodysuit, a spy girl sort of thing. The model on the invitation is a (pre-"The Real Housewives of Atlanta") Cynthia Bailey. My styling inspiration was Emma Peele from “The Avengers. The casting almost all black models unheard of in a Seventh Avenue show then and now!
That night was electric. In our small three-floor walk-up showroom, fashion’s old and new guard crammed in shoulder to shoulder. Editors from WWD, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, ELLE, and Harpers Bazaar were here to see a debut collection by an unknown young guy from Cincinnati, OH. From the very first exit, there was excitement. With every look, the energy grew, as models gyrated to the eclectic mix of Yoko Ono, house music, and Hip Hop. Photographers were screaming "Come back! Come back... More!!!", and editors were cat-calling and fanning the models with the "church fan" like programs.
After the show I was greeted backstage by Vogue's legendary fashion editor Polly Allen Mellen with one word...LOVE! In following day's WWD, the review of the collection began with three words "HOT, HOT, HOT!
My second show was a 70s flashback with Afros and chain link bras, chain link dresses, like an Isaac Hayes album cover. It was reviewed by everyone but I remember one review, I forgot who wrote it but they said, “The show was held on Seventh Avenue but the clothes were a little more like 42nd & Eighth!" Sometimes fashion is LOVE...sometimes not so much!
I had a James Bond fascination. At my junior prom, My date Sonya Dixion (née: Sinkfield ) and I were voted prom Prince and Princess. While the other guys were wearing blue and pink tuxedos, I was Bond, in classic black. Sonya is in a simple spaghetti strap dress with pockets; (she was all about the pockets in the dress) and BLACK! this was a real standout in a sea of Gunne Sax dresses. We were the fashion freak kids, we relished going against the grain.
The movie images were designed as a fantasy image, and back then, all you would see were the stars and the celebrities at a movie premiere or award show. If you saw a candid photo of someone like Elizabeth Taylor in the South of France, she was wearing a Pucci dress, or hot pants and good or bad it was authentic. She wasn’t styled by anyone.
It was a different headspace then. Contrived images have polluted the fashion moment. There is a self-consciousness that takes away the spontaneity of the fashion moment. Now an image is designed to get you noticed.
A fashion moment is lightening in a bottle. It steals the show. Like Pharrell putting that hat Vivienne Westwood on his head. It’s a quirky personal choice. I’m sure no one in the room when he first put it on was going to co-sign to that.
That’s when fashion really speaks. It’s the gasp. An ahh. It’s fleeting. And it’s hard to do again.
Photographs and Text Courtesy of Michael McCollom
The Way We Wore: Black Style Then