Stephen Burrows began work in the New York City’s garment center, alternately managing his own businesses and working closely with luxury department store Henri Bendel. He is known for being one of the first African-American fashion designer to sell internationally and develop a mainstream, high-fashion clientele.\ His garments, known for their bright colors and “lettuce hem” curly-edges, became an integral part of the “Fun City” New York City disco-dancing scene of the 1970s.
Stephen Burrows was born in Newark, New Jersey on September 15, 1943.Born to parents Octavia Pennington and Gerald Burrows,he was raised by his mother, and his maternal grandmother, Beatrice Pennington Banks Simmons. Fascinated with his grandmother’s zigzag sewing machine, he learned to sew early. He made his first garment for a friend’s doll when he was eight years old.
As a high school student, Burrows took dance lessons and loved the mambo. He began heading to Manhattan on Sundays to dance at the Palladium, and then it was a natural step to begin sketching dresses he wanted for his partners. However, when he graduated from Newark’s Arts High School, he first enrolled at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art, intending to be an art teacher.
Inspired by dress forms he came across during a tour of the college, he transferred to New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT),but found it frustrating. FIT professors taught a set of basic draping rules that Burrows had no patience with. Even then he had established his spontaneous style of cutting at all angles, stretching edges off grain, and draping as he went.Nonetheless, he graduated in 1966.
Burrows began his working career with a job at blouse manufacturer, Weber Originals.Gradually his work was picked up by small shops, and in 1968 he began working with Andy Warhol and his entourage at Max’s Kansas City and selling across the street at the O Boutique.Burrows’ clothes were described as the fashion embodiment of the electric sexuality of this era. The women who wore his clothes gave off this aura of frantically creative days and wild nights filled with disco music and glamorous people.
As a former student of FIT, there was a desire amongst his classmates to sell their lines at Henri Bendel.Burrows himself was introduced to Geraldine Stutz, Bendel’s owner, in the summer of 1968.She loved the coat he wore to meet her so much that she gave him a boutique in the store.
Stephen Burrows was one of the five American fashion designers chosen to showcase their work at the historical fashion show billed as divertissement à Vèrsailles, held on November 28, 1973. This event has come to be known as The Battle of Versailles Fashion Show. He was the youngest of the American designers to show a collection at The Battle of Versailles Fashion Show by more than a decade. The French were represented by designers, Pierre Cardin, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Emanuel Ungaro. The Americans were represented for the first time in Europe and along with Burrows included Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass and Anne Klein.
In May 2006, the CFDA honored Burrows with “The Board of Directors Special Tribute”. Around the same time, Burrows was invited by the Chambre Syndicale de la Mode to return to Paris to present his Spring/Summer 2007 Collection in the Carousel de Louvre. In addition to “Stephen Burrows World”, Burrows expanded his company to include a number of labels drawn from various points of inspiration. “S by Burrows” was created for a venture with Home Shopping Europe (HSN) in Munich, Germany, while “Everyday Girl” was inspired by Anna Cleveland, daughter to muse and model Pat Cleveland, and “SB73,” a cut and sew knit line that was developed based on Burrows’ hallmark, color-blocked creations of the seventies.
He started with his own ready-to-wear collection in 1969 with friend Roz Rubenstein for Bonwit Teller. Later that year, Henri Bendel’s visual director, Joel Schumacher, introduced Stephen to Bendel’s President, Geraldine Stutz. She hired him on the spot. In fall of 1973, Burrows’ first lingerie/sleepwear collection, called “Stevies” was introduced at Henri Bendel’s, Bonwit Teller, Lord & Taylor, and Bloomingdales, as well as stores in Chicago, San Francisco, and elsewhere.
The “Stephen Burrows World” boutique opened at Henri Bendel in 1970 and propelled Burrows to immediate success. Burrows’ boutique re-opened at Bendel’s in 2002. The industry honored him with a star on the Seventh Avenue Fashion Walk of Fame. In 2006 the Council of Fashion Designers of America bestowed him with “The Board of Directors Special Tribute.”
2010 found Stephen designing a collection for Target, which was introduced at their flagship store in Harlem as well as Target stores throughout the country. That same year, Burrows opened his new showroom and design studio in New York City’s Garment Center.Stephen continued to design and present his collections as well as working on numerous collaborations including his most recent with Raven Denim and QVC UK.
His clothes have been worn by Cher, Diana Ross, Liza Minnelli, Oprah, Farrah Fawcett, Taylor Swift, Naomi Watts, and Barbara Streisand. First Lady Michelle Obama wore a Burrows Jersey pantsuit to a Washington DC event.