Adrienne Jones, Creator of The Black Dress Exhibit
Professor Adrienne Jones holds the honor of being the first Black woman to achieve tenured professor status at Pratt Institute. Jones has taught in the Fashion Design department at Pratt for over 25 years.
In 2014, Professor Jones conceived and co-curated the landmark exhibition Black Dress, which honors Black designers and addresses the lack of diversity in the fashion industry. The exhibition was an unprecedented endeavor to coalesce a diverse array of contemporary design styles that inform and educate the New York fashion community, as well as new audiences, on the commemorative work of Black designers. The exhibition was highly publicized and featured in Elle, W, Huffington Post, and many other news outlets. Black Dress project includes a website that serves as a source of information and reference, a digital exhibition, and Black Dress TV, where video interviews of prominent Black/African American figures of the fashion industry can be found. Jones is currently writing the companion book to the exhibition and working on expanding and touring the exhibition.
Adrienne is a painter, photographer, and fashion designer who specializes in leather and suede looks for her private clients. She has worked as a stylist, creative director, and fashion show producer. Jones holds degrees in Art Therapy (M.S.), Art Education (B.S.), Fashion Design (A.A.S.), and has won many awards and honors, including being presented with the Innovative Visionary Icon of the Decade, by the African American Women in Cinema, in 2015. In 2017, Professor Jones was awarded Pratt’s Distinguished Teacher Award, which recognizes exceptional teaching and dedication to the Institute’s mission and students. She was also chosen as one of five scholars for the Inclusive Pedagogy Scholars Program, which investigated and reported on the challenges of diversity and inclusion on the Pratt campus.
DT: Good Day, Adrienne. It’s a pleasure to interview you and talk about your years as a fashion designer, educator at Pratt Institute, and creator of The Black Dress Exhibit.
How long have you been a fashion designer?
AJ: Hmmmm, I have been a fashion designer professionally for 35 years. Basically, as soon as I came out of F.I.T…it was much easier to find work then. If you had the skills, you had a job.
DT: When did you become a professor at Pratt Institute? How has education changed?
AJ: I became a professor at Pratt in 1988. There was an excitement and hunger when I started, it was all over the city. I felt a strong passion from students that felt called to fashion design.
My students helped me to become a better teacher and how to translate that information to others. Your hunger and excitement as students propelled me (was a student at Pratt in 1989).
However, I don’t see the same passion, there are behavioral and learning differences, such as depression is the norm. Which makes it hard for students to get through their studies…mental health is a serious issue.
What’s interesting is that I have a master’s degree in art therapy, so I started to see the shifts. Thankfully, many schools have started to add health and counseling as a major component of education, and it helped me start to understand that there is a mental health crisis.
Paying attention to your students to paramount.
DT: Just as you share your knowledge and gifts with students. What have you learned from your students through the decades?
AJ: I have learned EVERYTHING, teaching is reciprocal, and it keeps me teaching, current and fluid. I keep an open line of communication with all my students. Also, I stress you never stop learning.
Giving them a cultural and social context is very important to my students as well. We discuss gentrification, race, gender, sexuality, music, and culture.
DT: The Black Dress Exhibit is such a brilliant and huge undertaking archiving African Americans contributions to Beauty, Fashion, and Design?
AJ: (laughs) In 2012, we had a professor giving a lecture on the history of fashion and said,” African American only contribution to fashion was hip-hip”. My head began to spin and was a pivotal moment for me, in true Aries fashion, I said to myself, “I will show her how untrue that statement was…”.
I was exposed to Clara Branch at F.I.T, she became my honorary God mother. She created the Soul Group that later became a fashion show. Clara was a blessing to so many people. It was one of the BEST fashion shows that came out of F.I.T…she did it during Black History Month. The word got around and we began to travel with the show.
She had some of the top people in the industry working with her; music, lighting, set design, etc. She archived everything in scrapbooks, and it was an education. I was blessed to get those scrapbooks and the lifelong friendship. May she rest in peace, such a gift to us all.
DT: Tell our readers some of the amazing people you have showcased?
AJ: We work really hard on updating the information. We have covered so many, we have highlighted at least 10 like Jeffrey Banks, Steven Burroughs, Epperson, Michael Jerome Francis, Byron Lars, Tracy Reese, Samantha Black, Donna Dove, Omar Salaam, and LaQuan Smith. My co-creator was Paula Coleman and her long-time friend and Carrie May-Weems, and Tyrone Mays. Carrie, created a film that was shown at the exhibit.
DT: How do you see this concept expanding globally?
AJ: We are now taking note of fashion designers from Africa and the Dominican Republic, etc…Also, the influence of African models on the runway.
DT: I know the pandemic was a challenging for you like many around the world. What great lessons did you learn in 2020?
AJ: I learned the art of being still, especially living in NYC. It’s not something most of us do in the industry.
I was able to connect to my home, look at my living space differently, organizing it differently that allowed me to flow.
I was grateful to spend time with myself.
DT: How are your students coping and honoring their creative process?
AJ: Its been very difficult for them and for me trying to keep students engaged. As well as high school students in a pre-college program in November 2020.
When we came back, I only had 8 students per class. By the spring semester, what students had learned online did not translate into the classroom…there was a lot of relearning.
I feel ready to start up again this Fall 2021 but not sure what the student population will be.
DT: What are you most grateful for at this present moment?
AJ: Whewww, that’s a long list…. I am grateful for my health, peace of mind, amazing people in my life, and that I live a free life.
DT: Thank you for chatting with me and sharing your passion project, The Black Dress Exhibit, that I hope to see in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian some day. Can you imagine how that exhibit would look? How impactful it would be to show more diversity?
AJ: Yes and yes, I am striving for the exact same thing. Patience is hard for me but through learning stillness, good things do come to those who wait. I already mapped out what this exhibit would look like, it would be highly IMPACTFUL.
We will do it as a class. I think it is very much needed, I was shocked how many people didn’t know, for instance that Ann Lowe an African American fashion designer did Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress or that Tracy Reese is African American.
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