About This Video
Soul Club Oral History Project: Michael Harrell
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.
Michael Harrell is an accomplished, multi-hyphenate designer with an extensive body of work that spans over 30 years-within the fashion, film, theater and television industries. As a hybrid design talent, his work is an eclectic combination of a visual storyteller combined with a master craftsman evolving from his years of traveling and working in over 25 countries.
During his fashion career, he honed his skills at Christian Dior, Donna Karan, Diane Von Furstenberg and Anne Klein - to name a few. Michael eventually merged his love of music with his fashion sense when he became the costume designer for the legendary singer Patti LaBelle. His work appeared on album/CD covers, concert stages and national television shows (his custom designed/tailored garment-worn by Ms. LaBelle when receiving her first Grammy Award-is now in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture). Michael’s work has appeared on such music celebrities as: Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Gwen Stefani, Harry Styles and Madonna. Also, his costume building/tailoring and master technical skills have appeared on the stages of several Broadway productions Tina: The Musical, Walt Disney’s Frozen, The Book of Mormon, A Raisin in the Sun (with Denzel Washington), The Great Comet of 1812 (with Josh Groban), Misery (with Bruce Willis), A Delicate Balance (with Glenn Close), and M.J. (the upcoming Michael Jackson musical) to name a few. His television and movie credits include: Ugly Betty (ABC Network) The Young Pope (with Jude Law and Diane Keaton), Gold (with Matthew McConaughey), Top Five (with Chris Rock), We The People (Shondra Rhimes/ABC production) and Death Saved My Life (Lifetime network).
As an alumnus of the Fashion Institute of Technology, he has been a guest lecturer for several degree/certificate programs prior to helming his own class within the college. Under Michael’s tutelage, several of his students have ventured onto successful careers in the live theater, film and television industries.
Taur Orange, interviewer, is the head of Educational Opportunity Programs at FIT.
FIT Special Collections and College Archives
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