Designer Biographies

Eunice W. Johnson

(American, 1916–2010)

Eunice Walker Johnson was born in Selma, Alabama, to a prominent upper-middle-class family. Her father was a surgeon; her mother, an educator. Eunice earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology, with a minor in art, from Talladega College, and her master’s degree in social work from Loyola University in Chicago.

While in Chicago, Eunice met John H. Johnson and they married in 1940. Two years later, Mr. Johnson founded Johnson Publishing Company, Inc., the largest black-owned publishing company in the world. Its flagship magazine, Ebony, which Mrs. Johnson named, has remained the world’s most popular black-oriented magazine since its founding. By the early 1950s, Mrs. Johnson was secretary-treasurer of the young company and wrote editorials. With a serious interest in fashion and style, Mrs. Johnson created, produced, and directed the Ebony Fashion Fair—the traveling philanthropic fashion show that featured high fashions and an all-black staff. The show raised more than $51 million for both local and national charitable organizations over its fifty-year history. Mrs. Johnson was also involved in the creation in 1973 of Fashion Fair Cosmetics, to provide cosmetics in shades for deeper skin tones. Today the company is a world leader in cosmetics for women of color.

By the time of her death in 2010, Mrs. Johnson had received numerous honors and special appointments, including the conferment of an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Talladega College; a Golden Life membership of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., a public service sorority; and membership on the Advisory Board of the Harvard Graduate School of Business.

Tilmann Grawe

(French, b. Germany, 1969)
“Human beauty comes in diverse forms and this has always been my vision. I don’t understand designers who use only one type of model.” –Tilmann Grawe, 2013

Tilmann Grawe is a talented designer of luxury prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) fashion, headwear, eyeglasses, and accessories, noted for his use of unusual materials. After studying for two years in Germany, Grawe honed his skills in Paris, France, at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and with Louis Féraud Haute Couture.

Tilmann Grawe showed his first collection in March 2000, after a seven-year collaborative conceptual design venture with Spanish fashion designer Paco Rabanne. Grawe’s unique style combines modernity and elegance in harmony with the image of luxury. His sculptural evening dresses reflect his creative ability to combine industrial and precious materials such as silk, horn, crystal, Bohemian glass, plastic, and furs with plexus inlays.

International stars such as Lara Fabian, Aishwarya Rai, Paz Vega, and Lady Gaga have worn the designer’s creations. Grawe has participated in the prestigious UNICEF fashion parade, sponsored by the First Lady of Germany in Berlin, and the Cannes Film Festival.

Image: Photo by Vusal Verdiyeve

Yves Saint Laurent

(French, b. Algeria, 1936–2008)
“I was his first black muse…. He helped open the door for black models. Sometimes I was his confidante, and I would sometimes inspire his creativity. He called me Moumounn. The collection that made me a celebrity was the one inspired by Porgy and Bess.” –Mounia, muse and model, Yves Saint Laurent, 1978–2002

Yves Henri Donat Matthieu-Saint-Laurent grew up in a villa by the Mediterranean with his family; and by his early teens, was designing dresses for his mother and sisters. At the age of eighteen, Saint Laurent moved to Paris and enrolled at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, where his designs gained notice. He eventually had the opportunity to work under designer Christian Dior and refine his fashion design techniques. Upon Dior’s passing at the age of fifty-two, Saint Laurent became head designer at the haute couture fashion house and launched a spring collection that earned him critical acclaim—he was only twenty-one years old.

Yves Saint Laurent, often abbreviated YSL, is perhaps most famous for “Le Smoking” tuxedo jacket, see-through and peasant blouses, bolero jackets, pantsuits, and smocks. By feminizing the basic shapes of the male wardrobe, Saint Laurent set new standards for world fashion. He adapted not only the male tuxedo for women, but also safari jackets, pea jackets, and flying suits.


Pauline Trigère

(American, b. France, 1912–2002)
“Fashion is what people tell you to wear. Style is what comes from your own inner thing.” —Pauline Trigèr

Born in Paris, Pauline Trigère immigrated to the United States at the age of twenty-five. By age thirty, she was designing under the name “Trigère,” and had worked for Ben Gershal, Travis Banton, and Hattie Carnegie. “Pauline Trigère” was her label from the 1950s through the 1990s, with garments known for sophisticated and structured tailoring—the best of which were her coats and dresses made from fine wools.

Trigère was a master cutter and worked directly on a live model. She was also a master at fitting: clients often remarked that a Pauline Trigère dress fit like a second skin. She designed scarves, jewelry, and furs in addition to her clothing line, and a lower-cost line of coats, “A Trigere Coat,” for manufacturer Abe Schrader. Trigère’s business remained relatively small, with Trigère designing and running the business with the help of a son. She was also a woman of strong beliefs. In 1961, she became the first name designer to use an African American model.


Zang Toi

(Malaysian, b. 1961)
“I consider myself a fashion outsider.” —Zang Toi, Esquire interview, September 2012

Zang Toi was born and raised in the small village Kuala Krai in Kelantan, Malaysia, to a local grocer; he is the youngest of seven children. At the age of twenty, Toi moved to New York City, where he studied at Parsons School of Design. In August 1989, he opened his atelier, the House of Toi, and in March 1990, he was featured in the March 1990 issue of Vogue. He has since built a tradition of elegance.

Zang’s work has been featured in major publications such as Vanity Fair, Time, Newsweek, and The New York Times. He has dressed Hollywood celebrities Sharon Stone and Elizabeth Taylor, as well as created luxurious wardrobe for philanthropists and royalty, including Melinda Gates and Saudi Princess Haifa Bandar Al Saud.


Oscar de la Renta

(Dominican American, 1932–2014)
“The great thing about fashion is that it always moves forward.” —Oscar de la Renta

Oscar de la Renta left his native Dominican Republic at eighteen years of age to study painting in Madrid. While living in Spain, he became interested in the world of design and began sketching for leading Spanish fashion houses, which led to an apprenticeship with Spain’s most renowned couturier (fashion designer), Cristóbal Balenciaga.

After working as a couturier for a variety of fashion houses (Lanvin, Balmain, Arden, Derby), de la Renta began his signature ready-to-wear label in 1965. He later entered other fashion markets, with high-end sportswear, bridal wear, accessories, furs, lingerie, home furniture and fragrance collections, and licensed products for hosiery, sport coats, suits, and trousers. His eponymous fashion house continues to dress leading figures, from film stars to royalty, and many of America’s First Ladies, from Jacqueline Kennedy to Michelle Obama.

Oscar de la Renta received continual international recognition; among his awards were the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Womenswear Designer of the Year Award and their Lifetime Achievement Award.

B Michael

(American, b. 1957)
“I love to know that I design for women that have an agenda. [M]any of the women who wear my clothing are very powerful in terms of running their own businesses, or sitting on boards, or doing great philanthropic work.” —B Michael

Growing up in Durham, Connecticut, B Michael found early inspirations in his mother; he credits her for his creativity and keen sense of style. And like his eclectic family tree, his b michael AMERICA fashion house incorporates the elegance of understated cool with sensational color.

A former account executive for a Wall Street firm, B Michael decided to pursue his creative side and launched a successful millinery (women’s hats) line after having designed for Oscar de La Renta and Louis Feraud, among others. The designer launched his first couture collection in 1999, and as with his approach to millinery, his designs exuded a glamorous, clean aesthetic. His b michael AMERICA collections, with their festive mood, have garnered appreciative fans among socialites and entertainment personalities, such as Cicely Tyson, Whitney Houston, Nancy Wilson, Beyonce Knowles, Lena Horne, Lynn Whitfield, and Angela Bassett.

B Michael is a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), an organization known to recognize America’s leading fashion and accessory designers and is a guest lecturer at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).