The Fashion Show that Helped Launch a Movement


Photo Credit: Kwame Brathwaite
courtesy of @Philipmartingallery

On January 28, 1962, a groundbreaking fashion show was held at the Purple Manor jazz club in East Harlem. The show, titled Naturally ’62: The Original African Coiffure and Fashion Extravaganza Designed to Restore Our Racial Pride and Standards, was organized by the African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS), a group of Black creatives, co-founded by legendary photographer Kwame Brathwaite and his brother, activist Elombe Brath. The show featured Black models, referred to as Grandassa Models, who rejected Western ideals of beauty and challenged the narrative that Black people were less beautiful than their Caucasian counterparts.

Grandassa Models celebrated Black beauty by wearing their natural hair in afros, showcasing darker-skinned and fuller-figured women on the runway, and predominantly wore designs they created which were inspired by Black culture. The producers, including graphic designer and artist Bob Gumbs, (who later created the iconic “Black Is Beautiful'' poster), had no idea whether this bold idea would succeed. When they saw people lined up outside and made the spontaneous decision to stage two shows that night instead of one, they knew that they had tapped a powerful nerve. 

Soon thereafter Grandassa Models traveled to Chicago and Detroit. Their shows featured African-inspired clothing and jewelry and the models emanated pride and confidence. In doing so they redefined beauty standards and spread a message that became a movement: Black Is Beautiful.

On Thursday, February 3 at 6:30 pm, original Grandassa models Queen Black Rose and Barbara “Aduza” Solomon, along with Naturally ‘62 producer Bob Gumbs, will come together for a CBH Talk to discuss this historic fashion show and its revolutionary impact. Moderated by Souleo, the program will celebrate the bold vision and lasting legacy of Naturally ‘62. Register for this special event online.

You can dig deeper into the history of Black fashion, changing beauty standards, and identity with some of these favorite books:

The monograph Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful is dedicated to Braithwaite’s remarkable career and tells his story as a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Braithwaite was one of the founders of African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS) and the Grandassa Models.

In Black: A Celebration of Culture, Deborah Willis tackles the subject of twentieth-century Black culture in America and around the world with bravery and frankness. This is an exhilarating collection of black and white photographs that celebrates that culture.

The Birth of Cool: Style Narratives of the African Diaspora by Carol Tulluch investigates the role of dress in the creation and assertion of Black identity.

Supreme Models: Iconic Black Women Who Revolutionized Fashion by Marcellas Reynolds is the first-ever book celebrating black models. It’s filled with revealing essays, interviews and stunning photographs, and pays tribute to Black models past and present, from the first to be featured in catalogs and on magazine covers to the supermodels who reigned in the nineties.

How to Slay: Inspiration from the Queens and Kings of Black Style by Constance White offers a lavishly illustrated overview of African American style through the twentieth century, focusing on the last thirty-five years. 

Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style and the Global Politics of Soul by Tanisha C. Ford explores how and why black women, from the Civil Rights and Black Power era of the 1960s through anti-apartheid activism in the 1980s and beyond used their clothing, jewelry, hair, and general "soul style" not simply as a fashion statement but as an integral part of their activism and as a powerful tool of resistance.

Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry by Tiffany Gill is a reassessment of Black beauty salons as vital sites for social change.

In The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion, curator and critic Antwaun Sargent addresses a radical transformation taking place in fashion and art today.

Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion by Tanisha C. Ford is a bold, witty, and deeply personal dive into Black America's closet. Ford investigates Afros and dashikis, go-go boots and hotpants of the sixties, hip hop's baggy jeans and bamboo earrings, and the #BlackLivesMatter-inspired hoodies of today. 

The Way We Wore Black Style Then by Michael McCollom chronicles African American fashion from the 1940s through today. Featuring snapshots of over 150 black men and women's most unforgettable "style moments," the book includes personal photographs taken from the author's own family and circle of friends.


Marcia Ely is Director of Programs at the Center for Brooklyn History. Co-authored with Souleo, an independent curator.


This blog post reflects the opinions of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of Brooklyn Public Library.


Post a Comment

While BPL encourages an open forum, posts and comments are moderated by library staff. BPL reserves the right, within its sole discretion, not to post and to remove submissions or comments that are unlawful or violate this policy. While comments will not be edited by BPL personnel, a comment may be deleted if it violates our comment policy.

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
eNews Signup

Get the latest updates from BPL and be the first to know about new programs, author talks, exciting events and opportunities to support your local library.

Sign Up