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L'Tanya Griffin: African-American Fashion and Costume Designer

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L'Tanya Griffin is pictured in the center. To her right is jazz singer Herb Jeffries.

L'Tanya Griffin is pictured in the center. To her right is jazz singer Herb Jeffries.

Who Is L'Tanya Griffin?

Minh-Ha Pham, of the blog "Of Another Fashion," is compiling images and stories of the fashions of women of color throughout history, as their fashion history is often overlooked. Among them was an intriguing photo and caption about L’Tanya Griffin.

Very little information is available about L’Tanya Griffin, a Black fashion designer in the 1940s and 1950s. According to Pham, Griffin designed clothes for Catherine Basie (Count Basie’s wife) and gowns for twenty Edward D. Wood, Jr. movies. Wood is better known as Ed Wood thanks to the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton movie of the same name. Unfortunately for Griffin, Ed Wood is considered the worst director in the history of film, and a search of Ed Wood movie credits turned up no credits for Griffin.

Famous and Forgotten

What little that can found out about her is mostly on the society pages of Jet magazine, such as this small excerpt from the April 23, 1959 issue:

Nationally famous L’Tanya Griffin, who designs gorgeous clothes and fills them well, too, will team with redhead Elaine Smith to parade L’Tanya Creations at a "Champagne Garden Party" to be staged around the Catherine Basie pool in St. Albans, N.Y. by the fashionable Bon Bons . . . during the upcoming 'Symphony of Modes' at Cincinnati Castle Farm.

The entry goes on to say the Ohio residents judge “the work of four Negro designers.” Twenty-four models, including seven male models, will showcase the designers’ work.

According to Women Designers in the USA, 1900-2000: Diversity and Difference, edited by Pat Kirkman, Black women fashion designers were gaining greater recognition in all major US cities through the 1940s and 1950s. Kirkman lists Dorothy Alexander, Barbara Williams, Fontaine Bradley, Hazel Shumate, Mildred Blount, and Bernice L’Tanya Griffin as such designers. Griffin's label was simply "Fashions by L’Tanya, Hollywood." She and Blount were the most well-known at the time.

In 1951, there was another small mention of Griffin in Jet magazine. It stated:

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Talk of the town is the "Cavalcade of Fashions" sponsored by Urban League and featuring L'Tanya and her right-from-Paris creations.The clever modiste who operates a Hollywood dress shop, received the first fashion credit ever awarded to a Negro designer.

L'Tanya Griffin on the cover of "Jet" magazine.

L'Tanya Griffin on the cover of "Jet" magazine.

Noted West Coast Fashion Designer

Jet referred to her as a "noted west coast fashion designer" and featured her on the cover of the June 24, 1954 issue. She was interviewed by Jet for an article about the phenomenon of women being overdressed all the time. The article was titled, “Do Negro Women Overdress.” The title, taken in today’s context, is startling for sure, but in 1954 it was "de rigueur."

Griffin was of the opinion that Black women were becoming more conservative. She is quoted as saying:

We have become more conservative and tend to bypass loud colors and unbecoming styles we once favored. On the whole we have solved the problem of selecting colors to complement our particular complexions and are toning down the flamboyance of which we are often accused.


  • Of Another Fashion
    An alternative archive of the not-quite-hidden but too often ignored fashion histories of U.S. women of color.


Tess45 (author) from South Carolina on March 05, 2011:

I wish we all dressed like that now. Thank you for the comment.

bookwench on March 05, 2011:

Do negro women overdress? Not going by those photos - that's some amazing style! Very cool article.

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