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  • Mikelle Drew

28 Days of Black Fashion History: Jeffrey Banks

“Whoever heard of a black designer?”

Those words from an unassuming young caretaker stuck with Jeffrey Banks but was the catalyst that pushed him to pursue his talent and excel as a successful American fashion designer, who just happened to be Black. “My parents always made me believe I could do anything I want as long as I was willing to work hard for it.”

Born in Washington, D.C., he knew from a very early age that he wanted to be a fashion designer. At 16, he’d begun to work for the men’s clothier Britches of Georgetown and grew to love the style of Ralph Lauren. At one point, the owner of Britches suggested he pick up Lauren, who was visiting D.C. for a charity fashion show, from the airport. They struck up a conversation during the ride, and Lauren, who was charmed by Bank’s enthusiasm, decided to hire him. Three weeks after graduating high school, Banks began what would become a three year working relationship and long lasting friendship with Ralph Lauren.

A Macy’s advertisement for Jeffrey Banks’ menswear.

He continued working with Lauren until his final year of college at Parsons, when he left the company due to the mounting pressure of working nearly full time and trying to get his degree. However, not long after he left, Calvin Klein offered him the opportunity to come work for his company, allowing him the flexibility to come in when he could and offering him a weekly salary. It was an offer he couldn’t resist.

Looks from Jeffrey Banks. Photo: Bruce Weber

After his time at Calvin Klein, he would work for companies such as Nik-Nik clothing and sportswear and even design a line of men’s furs for Alixandre, a line which he won a Coty award for, the youngest designer ever to do so. And in 1977, he launched his own signature menswear collection.