28 Days of Black Fashion History: Jackie Peters-Cully

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Falling into her career, ironically because of lack of opportunity, Jackie Peters Cully became one of the first African American textile artists in fashion and thrived as head stylist and later owner of her own textile design firm in New York.

Jackie began her training in art education in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She later transferred to Chicago Art Institute but found the classes boring so left for Paris to study fashion at the . A year later, she returned to the States but was unable to find employment as a fashion designer due to lack of experience. She later tried her hand at fashion illustration, but after some time, found that was also not her forte.

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Jackie view ‘Avant Garde’ knitwear designs at DuPont. (Ebony magazine, March 1968)

Taking the advice of a Vogue fashion editor she’d once met with, she decided to move into the textile design field. She worked several jobs in studios such as Renoir and Rosewood Fabrics, eventually moving into ‘high fashion’ fabrics during the mid-1960’s. In 1965, she began working for William Kolbe as their chief stylist. The company produced between 150-200 designs per year, and while Jackie was head stylist, designers spent approximately $12million a year buying her textile designs. Some customers even took to calling her designs the ‘Jackie Peters’ look.

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Presenting fabric designs to William Kolbe, president of H.M. Kolbe, and Carey Klippstein, merchandise manager for one of Kolbe’s clients, 1968. (Women Designers in the USA, 1900-2000: Diversity and Difference, Kirkham, Pat 2002)
Four years later, Peters opened Jackie Peters Design Studio, becoming the first Black textile design studio in New York. Some of her signature styles included bold abstracts, ‘ethnic’ prints, and hand painted silks. Jackie would become one of the first American designers to paint directly on silk fabric.

During her 15 years running her design company, she met and married her husband Bernard Cully, who would also become part of the business. Jackie would serve as art director and rep for at least a dozen designers while her husband took care of sales and marketing.

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She and her husband retired in 2000 and relocated to Sarasota, Florida. However, they continue to work in the world of art and textile design. Jackie hand paints one of a kind silk pieces and then makes them into garments. In 2012, she taught workshops for children and adults on dyeing leaves that would eventually become part of a community art installation. Her husband, who also studied art at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York paints on canvas.

 

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