Stephen Burrows with friends. Courtesy of Harry Benson.
“It was a very creative time, and it was a very inclusive time, different from what it had been before,” recalls designer Stephen Burrows of the decade that made him a star, as he created the look of the disco era with rainbow jersey dresses and lettuce-edge hems. By the time he was 30, in 1973, the Newark, New Jersey, native and Fashion Institute of Technology alum had gone from selling homemade club wear from the basement of a Park Avenue boutique to star billing at Henri Bendel. He was the first Black designer to win a Coty Award, and he stole the show as the youngest of the American contingent at the famous Battle of Versailles, outside of Paris. “It was a great accomplishment for a Black guy to have gotten that far at such a young age,” he says. Burrows and his glam-orous entourage, which might have included the model Pat Cleveland, the jewelry designer Elsa Peretti, and Cher on any given night, captured the freedom of the moment with his designs, which showed off the body in a seductive yet elegant way. “My whole aim was to be translucent but not transparent,” he says. “It was a lot of work, but it was fun. Everyone would come to my house and get dressed up. I had to keep making new clothes, because all my friends would take them and I’d never see them again.”