28 Days of Black Fashion History: Byron Lars
Some have called his clothes ‘quirky, yet classic’. Jeffrey Banks called him ‘the African American Christian Francis Roth’. And while adapting menswear into fabulous, fashionable and impeccably cut garments, Byron Lars likes to refer to his sportswear as ‘twisted American classics’.
Born in Oakland and raised in El Cerrito, California, Byron was on the path to becoming an architect when he was introduced to sewing in the 10th grade. He began designing his classmates’ gowns, delighting in the joy it gave him to see them so excited and happy.
After graduation, he completed a two year fashion program at Brooks Fashion Institute of Technology in Long Beach, California and later enrolled at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. While there, he represented the US at the International Concours des Jeunes Createurs de Mode in Paris in 1986. He also won the first annual Texitalian contest for fashion design students, held by the school and the Italian Trade Commission in 1987.
After leaving FIT, Lars was a freelance pattern maker and illustrator. Then, in 1991, he showed his first collection which received rave reviews. Though he’d already been a closely watched design newcomer in New York for several years, Lars’ career took off with his Fall 1992 second collection. Lynn Manulis, president of Martha International, said in an interview with Essence magazine (September, 1992) that his collection was the ‘best and most original collection that happened during the entire fashion week.’ That year, he added Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus to his client list along with other high end retailers, prompting Women’s Wear Daily to name him their ‘Rookie of the Year’.
Women’s Wear Daily, April 1991.
By 1995, his business had gotten so busy, he had signed his first licensing agreement with San Siro for his Shirttails collection. Unfortunately, the company began selling unauthorized product to outlets and discounters, a huge no-no when you’re selling to high end stores. He would later win a lawsuit against the company, but the damage to his brand had already been done, and he saw his business slowly decline. However, an opportunity to design for one of the most famous fashionistas in the world would help him bounce back.
One of the African American barbie dolls from Byron Lars’ collection.