About This Video
Soul Club Oral History Project: Leonard Davis
The Soul Club of FIT was organized in 1968 by community member Clara Branch after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Clara Branch was a staff and faculty member of the Fashion Design Department who served as the club’s advisor until her retirement in 1991. The purpose of the club was to share and celebrate Black heritage and culture, and to assist students with books, materials, and mentorship. The Soul Club of FIT is best remembered for its annual standing-room only event, The Soul Fashion Show, which was held at FIT from 1971 through the early 1990s. Clara Branch directed these shows which featured the work of young Black designers and models, and were supported by the larger community of the New York City fashion industry. In 1992, Rhonda Burrell-Stubbs took over as director upon Clara Branch’s retirement.
The Soul Club Oral History Project is an initiative of the FIT Library, inspired by the Soul Club fashion shows’ exuberance, positivity, dynamism, and joy. For this oral history project, FIT alumni and faculty members are interviewed about their participation and experience in the Soul Club. The goal of this project is to explore FIT’s rich and diverse history and uplift, amplify, and publicly share the stories of Black fashion students and faculty members as told by the community members themselves.
Fashion Designer, Fashion Event Producer, and Black Americana collector, Leonard Davis, earned his Associate degree in applied science at the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1973.
Davis then continued his education at the world-famous L'École de la Chambre Syndicale De La Couture Parisienne, Paris, France where he earned his “Couture Design'' certificate in 1975.
After working as an apprentice for Jean-Louis Sherrer in Paris, Davis returned to New York and began working on Seventh Avenue as part of the design team at Willi Wear. Davis was the first African American designer to head a division for companies such as: Adrianna Papell, Chaus Inc. Tanzara, and Lemon Grass. For 12 years Davis designed private label products for QVC, The Home Shopping Network, Essence by Mail, and retail stores: Saks, Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Macy’s, JCPenney, Sears, Ashley Stewart, and Walmart. Davis has also worked abroad as Design Director for several International fashion houses including Mihang International, (Korea) Sage Apparel, (India), Tanzara international, (India).
In 1990 Leonard realized the necessity for an annual event to honor African Americans in the Fashion Industry.
Through the collaboration of FIT’s Soul Club and FAX, Davis’s vision was realized and he produced several events which honored black fashion pioneers such as: Ophelia DeVore, Naomi Sims, Andre-Leon Talley, Iman, Bethann Hardison, Geoffrey Holder, Carmen De Lavallade, Wesley Tann, Helen Williams, Audrey Smaltz, Susan Taylor, and Stephan Burrows. These events were hosted by Diahann Carroll and Phylicia Rashad.
Davis began collecting African American historical artifacts in 1985. Leonard has published two books entitled, Black Americana Price Guide. Davis has appeared in numerous magazine and newspaper articles, and The Davis Collection has been featured on TV shows: Antiques Road Show, Treasures In Your Home, and ABC News. Items from the Davis collection were featured in Spike Lee’s hit movie Bamboozled, and several items are on display at the newly built African American Museum in Washington, DC, The Civil Rights Museum, and The Norman Rockwell Museum.
Taur Orange, interviewer, is the head of Educational Opportunity Programs at FIT.
FIT Special Collections and College Archives
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