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Designer B. Michael Talks Fashion & Giving Back

Noted couture fashion designer B. Michael finally launched his first ready-to-wear America Red collection last fall and is keeping fashionistas on their toes for the upcoming release of his America Blue line. The industry vet is in Chicago today for the FASHION FAIR EBONY Costume Ball at the Chicago History Museum. The event is in celebration of the the museum’s exhibition of more than 60 garments representing the 50-year history of FASHION FAIR EBONY. JET caught up with B. Michael to talk about his relationship with Johnson Publishing Company, the success of his new line and how he’s paying it forward.

B. Michael dress

Can you tell us about your piece that is included in the exhibition?

The gown that Mrs. Johnson ordered from one of my 2007 couture collections is part of the installation. It is a multi-colored ball gown. And what is really special about the gown is that it’s maybe 50 pieces, in terms of seams, and each one is a different color. So it’s a major piece and, of course, she had the eye to recognize that and ordered it.

What was the inspiration for the unique approach to that particular piece? 

For that collection, I was inspired by Cirque du Soleil, so it is a lot of color.

Your relationship with Mrs. Johnson and the Johnson Publishing Company family goes back many years. Can you tell us how the two of you first became acquainted? 

I had a very special relationship with Mrs. Johnson. I started my career as a millinery designer and that’s when Mrs. Johnson first approached me. I was designing for the television show Dynasty, and she was working on her annual hats feature for EBONY. She reached out to our New York office and requested that we send some items that she could feature in the editorial. That was really the initial contact. From that, began a wonderful relationship. One of the hats that she selected for that editorial she also used for a campaign for FASHION FAIR. That became one of the ways that many people learned about my work, because that FASHION FAIR photo went everyplace and we literally received hundreds of phone calls in New York asking about that hat.

When Mrs. Johnson was in New York for Fashion Week, she would invite me to be her guest and sit with her at the shows. The shows in New York were a big deal. It was very special that she would recognize me that way and ask me to be her guest.

b. michael America Red Collection

B. Michael America Red Collection

Tell us about your latest collection and what new projects you have going on.

We have a lot going on actually. We just previewed the Fall 2013 couture collection as part of New York Fashion Week.  And last September we launched the B. Michael America Red, which is a ready-to-wear collection of dresses that Macy’s picked up and launched in six of their flagship stores nationwide. So that’s an ongoing expanded business for us. We ship a new group every month and the collection is made in New York 100 percent. We are very pleased that part of our infrastructure is that we can expand jobs and skill in the fashion industry in New York City. So that is really how we’re spending our days. Soon we will be launching B. Michael America Blue, ready-to-wear, also made in New York. The emphasis will be more special occasion dresses.

How can consumers find out which Macy’s you’re in?

You can go to bmichaelamerica.com, all of the cities are listed on the website and there are telephone numbers to call Macy’s. If you are not in one of the cities, you can order the dress through Macy’s By Appointment.

You described the Blue line as more special occasion, is that more formal?

The Red Dress collection really are dresses that are like day into evening. Something you would wear to the office and then go to an opening or a gallery opening after work. So it is really that sort of day into social. And the Blue label will really be about social, cocktail.

Personally, I would describe your dresses as very bold and pretty. They always feel very beautiful and very feminine. How would you describe your Blue line?

I like your description. The only thing I would add to what you are saying, which I love that description, is that you can take old and make it modern. Oftentimes someone will say to me, “It looks like Audrey Hepburn could wear your clothes.” And I think the point is it’s what she would wear if she were alive in 2013. So it is borrowing from the past an elegance that is very feminine, but it always has to be modern and relevant and classic and timeless so that even 10 years from now, I would like to think that you would still wear the dresses.

Have you ever thought about doing one of these reality shows?

When you say reality to me, frankly that does not appeal to my sensibility. If I had a platform I would want it to be more in terms of talking to young people who are interested in coming into the fashion industry and giving them a different perspective in terms of what goes on behind-the-scenes. It would have to do with educating and the business side of it, developing and a different kind of perspective.

Do you have an opportunity to mentor and work with young designers?

Well one of the missions of our company is to extend ourselves to education. There are some organizations, a few particularly based in New York—one called the Dream Yard Project, as an example—where we, as best we can, lend ourselves as mentors. We visit their project center and meet with the young people. They often come to our shows and participate at times. So yes, as much as we can do that and we look forward to doing that some more.

We’re co-chairing their gala in fact, which is this May. We are very excited to be a part of it in that way. Last year we honored Phylicia Rashad, which was perfect in how the children responded to her. She was so on point. And this year we’re honoring Kathryn Chenault. She has learned about them. She is devoted as well to supporting education and supporting the arts so it’s a perfect synergy.

For more on B. Michael’s designs please visit bmichaelamerica.com