now you see me: from grace jones to francis kéré, new book celebrates black design 

now you see me: from grace jones to francis kéré, new book celebrates black design 

now you see me: an introduction to 100 years of black design

 

Black designers, once marginalized or overlooked from history, are finally receiving recognition in Charlene Prempeh’s debut book, Now You See Me: An Introduction to 100 Years of Black Design. Founder of the creative agency A Vibe Called Tech, Prempeh organizes the volume into sections focusing on fashion, architecture, and graphic design. Richly illustrated with archival and documentary photographs, it provides detailed biographies of designers such as Ann Lowe, creator of Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding gown, and Emmett McBain, known for McDonald’s advertisements and the Black Malboro Man. The volume also features the works of contemporary figures including architect Francis Kéré, as well as interviews with stylist Law Roach and interdisciplinary artist Samuel Ross.

now you see me: from grace jones to francis kéré, new book celebrates black design 
Now You See Me by Charlene Prempeh | photo by Naman Choudhary © Prestel Publishing

 

 

Charlene Prempeh explores untold narratives

 

Now You See Me emerged from a brainstorming session where Charlene Prempeh (find more here) and her team sought to link a modern explorer aesthetic with the narratives of Black pioneers. It was in this dialogue that Prempeh first encountered Ann Lowe, a Black clothing designer responsible for Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding gown. Despite lacking due credit and facing dismissal by Kennedy as a ‘colored woman dressmaker,’ Lowe fought to receive recognition for her iconic design, persisting against a system that hindered her success despite her creative prowess.

 

Driven by a desire to provide context, perspective, and visibility to Lowe’s experiences, Prempeh embarked on the journey of creating this book with a compelling question as her catalyst: If we are unaware of Ann Lowe, what other significant stories remain unknown to us?

now you see me: from grace jones to francis kéré, new book celebrates black design 
Ann Lowe, Ebony Magazine, 1966 | image courtesy of Johnson Publishing Company Archive. Courtesy J.Paul Getty Trust & Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture

 

 

from pioneering figures to contemporary icons

 

Organized into sections covering fashion, architecture, and graphic design, and complemented by archival and documentary photographs, Prempeh’s text serves as both a comprehensive showcase of the achievements and contributions of Black designers and a platform for exploring profound questions about self-expression versus circumstance, creative autonomy versus societal structures, and the essence of creation amidst pervasive Blackness and dominant white patriarchy in cultural narratives and professional arenas.

 

Spotlighting luminaries spanning generations—from Zelda Wynn Valdes to Telfar Clemens, Norma Sklarket to Joe Osae-Addo, and Jackie Ormes to Art Sims—each section introduces individuals whose careers have significantly influenced and continue to shape their respective industries. Their life stories serve as springboards for addressing issues such as economic suppression of Black business owners, the creation of post-colonial architectural archives in Africa, the recognition of Black female genius, the challenges of Black identity erasure in artificial intelligence, and the celebration of designs crafted by and for the Black community—each narrative resonating with the timeless ethos of Emmett McBain’s iconic 1968 advertisement: Black is Beautiful.

 

The book not only provides detailed biographies of various designers but also offers a modern approach to history. Prempeh infuses contemporary perspectives into each section. ‘Who defines what is normal? Who decides whose opinions are most accepted? Language is playing as much of a role in these moments of discrimination and erasure as the act of any individuals or wider societal problems,’ says Prempeh. In Now You See Me, the author intertwines her personal experiences as a Black creative with the complex histories she presents, encouraging readers to realize that each designer’s legacy is umbilically connected to the past and the future, and that it is in our hands to preserve and give platform to their work.

now you see me: from grace jones to francis kéré, new book celebrates black design 
McBain’s iconic Black is Beautiful advertisement for Vince Cullers Advertising, 1968 | image courtesy of Emmett McBain, 1968. Reproduced with kind permission of Letta McBain. Courtesy of University of Illinois Chicago, Special Collections and University Archives

now you see me: from grace jones to francis kéré, new book celebrates black design 
students sitting in the shade of Gando Primary School | photo by Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk

now you see me: from grace jones to francis kéré, new book celebrates black design 
Paul R. Williams standing in front of The Theme Building, LAX, 1965 | photo, Julius Shulman © J. Paul Getty Trust, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

now you see me: from grace jones to francis kéré, new book celebrates black design 
interior of Gando Primary School | photo by Siméon Duchoud

now you see me: from grace jones to francis kéré, new book celebrates black design 
Joyce Bryant wearing one of the “tight-tight” gowns designed for her by Zelda Wynn Valdes, 1953 | Joyce Bryant wearing one of the “tight-tight” gowns designed for her by Zelda Wynn Valdes, 1953

now you see me: from grace jones to francis kéré, new book celebrates black design 
Grace Jones wearing a black leather jacket and Eiffel Tower hat designed by Patrick Kelly, 1989 | image © Gilles Decamps. Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Janet & Gary Calderwood, & Gilles Decamps, 2014

now you see me: from grace jones to francis kéré, new book celebrates black design 
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz House, Palm Springs, built 1954–55, Paul R. Williams (architect); photography 1955 | photo, Julius Shulman © J. Paul Getty Trust, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

now-you-see-me-black-design-charlene-prempeh-designboom-full-01

Beverly Hills Hotel, built 1949–50, Paul R. Williams (architect); photography 1950 | photo, Julius Shulman © J. Paul Getty Trust, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

now you see me: from grace jones to francis kéré, new book celebrates black design 
portrait of Charlene Prempeh | photo by Serena Brown

 

 

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Now You See Me by Charlene Prempeh | photo by Naman Choudhary © Prestel Publishing
Now You See Me by Charlene Prempeh | photo by Naman Choudhary © Prestel Publishing
Now You See Me by Charlene Prempeh | photo by Naman Choudhary © Prestel Publishing
Now You See Me by Charlene Prempeh | photo by Naman Choudhary © Prestel Publishing
McBain Afro-American Advertising Poster Collection, National Museum of American History,  Smithsonian Institution
McBain Afro-American Advertising Poster Collection, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
McDonald’s advertisement, Daddy and Junior Gettin’ Down. Emmett McBain, 1973 | Emmett McBain 1973. Reproduced with kind permission of Letta McBain. Courtesy of the Emmett McBain Afro-American Advertising Poster Collection, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
McDonald’s advertisement, Daddy and Junior Gettin’ Down. Emmett McBain, 1973 | Emmett McBain 1973. Reproduced with kind permission of Letta McBain. Courtesy of the Emmett McBain Afro-American Advertising Poster Collection, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
Sindiso Khumalo’s Spring Summer 2022 collection ‘Jagger’ showcasing intricate hand embroidery | photo, Xavier Vahed
Sindiso Khumalo’s Spring Summer 2022 collection ‘Jagger’ showcasing intricate hand embroidery | photo, Xavier Vahed
 Sindiso Khumalo’s Spring Summer 2022 collection ‘Jagger’ | photo, Xavier Vahed
Sindiso Khumalo’s Spring Summer 2022 collection ‘Jagger’ | photo, Xavier Vahed
Outfit from Bianca Saunders’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection, 'The Ideal Man' | photo, Silvia Draz
Outfit from Bianca Saunders’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection, 'The Ideal Man' | photo, Silvia Draz
 Sketch by LaQuan Smith of a jacket and jumpsuit outfit inspired by the Black Panther film, 2018 | image © LaQuan Smith
Sketch by LaQuan Smith of a jacket and jumpsuit outfit inspired by the Black Panther film, 2018 | image © LaQuan Smith
Joyce Bryant in a figure-hugging gown by Zelda Wynn Valdes, 1953 | © Van Vechten Trust. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Joyce Bryant in a figure-hugging gown by Zelda Wynn Valdes, 1953 | © Van Vechten Trust. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Ann Lowe with the First Lady doll from the Evyan Collection, 1966 | Johnson Publishing Company Archive. Courtesy J.Paul Getty Trust & Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture
Ann Lowe with the First Lady doll from the Evyan Collection, 1966 | Johnson Publishing Company Archive. Courtesy J.Paul Getty Trust & Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture
Portrait of Elizabeth Keckley [date unknown] | image courtesy the Indiana State Museum & Historic Sites, from the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection
Portrait of Elizabeth Keckley [date unknown] | image courtesy the Indiana State Museum & Historic Sites, from the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection
 Ann Lowe fitting a dress to a mannequin, 1966 | image courtesy of Johnson Publishing Company Archive. Courtesy J.Paul Getty Trust & Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture
Ann Lowe fitting a dress to a mannequin, 1966 | image courtesy of Johnson Publishing Company Archive. Courtesy J.Paul Getty Trust & Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture

project info: 

 

name: Now You See Me: An Introduction to 100 Years of Black Design
author: Charlene Prempeh
designer:
Polymode
publisher: Prestel Publishing 

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