All that Black Dress is, and will continue to be, is due to an incredible woman, my godmother, Clara Branch.
Clara Branch was a mainstay at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She not only taught in the Fashion Design department, she founded and supervised the SOUL Book Fund, a program that provided books and supplies for Black students.
In 1968, after the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ms. Branch created and organized the SOUL Club. Initially, the purpose of the club was to familiarize the greater F.I.T. community with Black heritage and culture. The impact of the club laid the groundwork for a meeting of the minds, and an understanding of equality. This soon became a never-ending job and inspired her to customize her approach and begin teaching others in a different way - by presenting gospel shows, seminars, and producing a newsletter. But, the showstopper of the F.I.T. spring semester was the annual SOUL Show; a fashion show that featured talented, young Black designers and models. Ms. Branch was loved by many at F.I.T., as well as in the fashion industry. So, when she took on the task as the executive producer of the SOUL Show, top industry professionals pitched in to assist her with lighting design, set construction, electrical and anything else she needed to make the show a success. And a success it was! Every February, the F.I.T. auditorium was sold out to standing-room only crowds, waiting to see one of the hottest fashion shows on 7th Ave. She continued producing the shows for the next 20 years, until her retirement in 1988.
I am very proud to be a product/protégée of Clara Branch’s original groundwork. The concept for Black Dress came from the many scrapbooks she collected throughout the years of Blacks in fashion. It was in the pages of these books that I realized how little was known about the talents of these individuals. I felt it necessary to further familiarize others with the achievements of Blacks in the fashion industry. This has now become a never-ending labor of love that continues to grow. With every discovery, a new one emerges, providing the building blocks to becoming a resource for present and future generations to enjoy.
Ma Branch, I hope I have made you proud!