As the fashion industry continues to present us with new trends every season, there wouldn’t be much inspiration to pull from without the help of powerful icons in fashion—particularly Black fashion icons. From industry game-changers, including Virgil Abloh and André Leon Talley, to pop culture legends Diana Ross and Cecily Tyson (and everyone in between), Black artists have long been at the cornerstone of fashion.
Below, read more about 15 Black fashion icons who have left their mark.
From starting her modeling career at the age of 15, Naomi Campbell has become one of the world’s most renowned supermodels. As the first Black model to be featured on the covers of British and French Vogue, she’s continued to have decades of success. In 2022, Naomi was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University for the Creative Arts on her impact in modeling on a global level. It’s inevitable that Naomi Campbell has forever changed the fashion world.
We love an island gyal who can do it all. Rihanna is not only an icon, but she reinvents herself at every stage in her life. She’s a successful businesswoman, singer, mother, and an actual national hero in Barbados. As one of the top-selling female artists in entertainment, Rihanna doesn’t live by rules, she creates them. Known for her impeccable fashion taste, she consistently shows out at every event and award show. Even her candids from the paparazzi are straight fire. Rihanna has never been afraid to take risks in fashion and delivers effortlessly each time.
Growing up in Ohio, Dorothy Dandridge started her acting career securing bit parts in movies throughout the 1940s and early ‘50s. She would go on to make history as the first Black actress to receive a nomination for an Academy Award in 1955. With her talent and beauty, her style also became the talk of town. Her signature style was graceful and elegant, and she opted for pieces with an off the shoulder silhouette. As a legend, she became a powerful force of Black womanhood.
André Leon Talley
An esteemed fashion journalist at Vogue, André Leon Talley also wore the hats of a creative director, stylist, and editor-at-large at the publication. With his personality being larger than life, Mr. Talley was an advocate for diversity in the fashion industry. He was a dreamer who made the dreams of others come true, leaving a huge legacy behind him nothing short of greatness.
Iman has been revolutionary in the way we view fashion. As a legendary supermodel and CEO of Iman Cosmetics, she has played an integral role in the business. In 2010, she was recognized as CFDA’s Fashion Icon of the Year, thanks to her signature style and efforts to combat discrimination in the fashion world. Joining forces with Naomi Campbell and Bethann Hardison, she helped spearheaded change in the fashion industry.
In 2011, A$AP Rocky brought confidence and swag to the scene, making a beautiful entrance into the world of rap. As successful as he’s been throughout the years, there’s no denying the influence he’s had with his fashion sense. Rocky became the face of the Dior Homme in 2016, making him the first Black man to ever do so. Garnering the attention of high fashion houses, he’s a trendsetter in street culture and redefines what it means to be a real icon, combining the gap between style, culture, and rap.
As a member of The Supremes, Diana Ross was clearly a breakout star. She’s not only notable for her talent, but the world has admired her glamorous style and gorgeous mane. Diana’s become known for her over-the-top outfits, both on the red carpet and during concerts. She’s long been a muse and inspiration for designers and creatives throughout generations.
Telfar Clemens is a Liberian-American fashion designer who moved to NYC for modeling, designing vintage pieces in 2003. Two years later, he found his current as the designer and founder of Telfar. Based in Brooklyn, the genderless fashion label became highly sought after, all while honoring Black pop culture. His coveted shopping bag has created accessibility in high fashion, while breaking barriers in inclusivity.
The Princess of R&B, Aaliyah’s style was best known for her tomboy streetwear looks with a touch of sexiness. In the ’90s, she incorporated oversized pieces, bandanas, and tinted sunglasses, influencing a new generation of fashion lovers. In 1996, the singer partnered with Tommy Hilfiger, solidifying her timeless aesthetic.
We’ve watched Zendaya her grow up from the Disney Channel to the Met Gala. She’s successfully landed herself on many best-dressed lists of the season. In fact, Zendaya made history as CFDA’s youngest recipient of their Fashion Icon Award in 2021. It’s safe to say, she’s here to stay.
Cicely Tyson’s career as an actress and model spanned over 60 years. Starting as a top model, she was featured in Vogue, Ebony, and more. Being a fashion icon came effortlessly. Before she passed, the trailblazer led a generation for African American artists to define themselves with integrity, showcasing Black humanity on and off the screen.
Sammy Davis Jr.
A quadruple threat in the entertainment industry, Sammy Davis Jr. was a true performer. He used his celebrity wisely, fighting the industry on its embedded racism. Mr. Davis Jr. was iconic as a public figure, but also in fashion. He was the first black male model on the cover of GQ Magazine in 1967, and has had an impact men as a style icon for decades. Making the list as one of the best dressed men in Oscars history, he was legendary on and off the fashion scene.
Oliver Rousteing has been the creative director of Balmain since 2011, landing the job as just 24 years old. Taking on the creative position at a fashion house, he revolutionized how we see the industry. “I broke rules because I came from a relatively unknown background, being so young at 24 and being Black,” he told The New York Times. “But actually, I am a French designer bringing about change.”
Virgil Abloh was a creator of many artistic pursuits, but in his words, “a maker.” After working in Chicago street fashion, Virgil secured his spot in international fashion while interning at Fendi in 2009. His impact runs deep as he successfully brought streetwear to the pinnacle of luxury fashion. He went on to create Off-White and establish the brand as a luxury fashion house before being appointed as artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton.
A talented triple threat, Josephine Baker was a class act. Her career was based in Europe, primarily in France. Known for her signature style—her slicked back hair and famous banana feather skirt costume, she quickly became an It Girl. In the 1920s, women took notice of Baker’s style and started wearing accent accessories such as giant dangling earrings, rings, and pearl necklaces inspired by the star. Baker redefined femininity during her time with her iconic fashion sense.