28 Days of Black Fashion History: Jon Haggins
He has dressed the likes of Diana Ross, Farah Fawcett, and Raquel Welch. His designs have graced numerous magazine covers including Cosmopolitan. Eleanor Lambert, considered the first fashion publicist in the United States, cited Jon Haggins as “first black fashion designer to make a name on Seventh Avenue.”
Yet, many never heard the name Jon Haggins much less know of him as a fashion designer.
Born in Florida, Jon Haggins was moved to New York when he was 15. He attended and graduated from the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.
His first job was as a pattern maker, which he knew right away that he hated!
Realizing after his first job that he didn't want to be a pattern maker (he hated it), he began creating outfits for his girlfriends to go out dancing at the disco. When actress Sybil Burton began buying all the clothes she saw them wearing, he was suddenly in business.
His style at the time was very different than the more structured fashion that was of the moment. Instead he opted for more clingy, jersey dresses. And his fashion style statement mirrored the transformation taking place amongst young, Black people across the United States.
He wrote in the Willi Smith Community archive, “Scott Barrie, Stephen Burrows, Willi Smith, and I were doing our thing and making our fashion statements while the Black Revolution was happening across America. We were a pack that revolutionized fashion with our own style in the late sixties.”
Not only were his designs innovative, but he also got creative when it came to how he presented his collections. In 1970, he married model June Murphy atop a penthouse terrace in Tudor City. There, he also staged his holiday, resort and spring collections. Needless to say, many of the guests were press taken with the idea of a fashion show that would end with a wedding.
Haggins established his first label right out of college (he graduated from FIT) in 1966. But despite what many would deem as success (getting his clothes into department stores, features in prominent fashion magazines, and getting major celebrities like Diana Ross, Joan Collins, Farah Fawcett and Raquel Welch to wear his collection), he would leave the industry twice.
As with many black designers he was underfunded and was doing everything himself.
“. . . I closed in 1972–not because I didn’t have enough business, but because I was simply undercapitalized and doing everything on my own.” Ebony, Nov. 1980
During a television interview in 1983, Haggins offered this piece of advice to new designers, "“Don’t think negative, and the fact that you can’t do it because you are Black or whatever it is. You do what you have to do, and you don’t think about that.”
Jon Haggins is now an author, and hosts and produces Globetrotter TV, a travel show that explores different cultures, cuisine, history and traditions.
Fun fact: Jon Haggins is an avid singer. In 1972, after having to close his studio, he formed the singing group, “Hot Stuff”, before returning to fashion in 1975.
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