28 Days of Black Fashion History: Fabrice Simon

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With his highly embellished, glittering evening wear, Fabrice Simon’s creations were a symbol of 80’s glamour and excess. His creations were often seen on the bodies of some of the most famous 80’s celebs.

The Haitian born designer, known only as Fabrice in the industry, was raised in a suburb of Port-au-Prince and attended school with Haiti’s former “President for Life”, Jean-Claude Duvalier. His father moved the family to New York in 1965 believing they would have a better life.

Cool Clean and Classy by Eunice W. Johnson Ebony April 1982
A bias, beaded dress in the Ebony Fashion Fair (Ebony magazine, April 1982)

Fabrice started out as an assistant for a textile design firm while also studying Textile Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. However, he soon became bored with the work he was doing and moved to Europe to paint. There, he started to pay more attention to what people were wearing and began to think about dresses.

Upon his return to the states, he started out hand painting his dresses, but doing all the work himself, he couldn’t keep up with the replenishment orders, and eventually, everyone began hand painting as well. There are conflicting stories about how he began using beadwork. In his NYTimes obituary, it is stated that his sister brought some beading back from Haiti and asked him to sew it to a dress for her. However, in several other articles, it is suggested that as he searched for a way to distinguish himself from other designers who were handpainting fabric, he saw some beaded trimming in a store window and discovered it had been done in Haiti. Employing his parents (who had returned to Haiti by then) to help oversee the production, he began commissioning Haitian beaders and embroiderers to execute his designs. Regardless of which is true, the beading became a hit. He brought his first design back to Vogue editors who gave him a double-page spread in the magazine.

Diet Coke Ad Ebony, Jan 1987
A Diet Coke advertisement featuring one of Fabrice’s creations (Ebony magazine, January 1987)
While he still worked with hand painted fabrics, Fabrice would become known for his intricate beadwork. His signature intricate and geometric yet modern embellishment would make many celebrities and socialites loyal fans of his work including Mary Tyler Moore, Dionne Warwick, Cheryl Tiegs, Pat Benatar, and Natalie Cole.

February 1987

Fabrice became a part of the 80’s scene, regularly entertaining fashion models, photographers and stylists at his summer home on Fire Island, and his designs continued to be a big hit on his clients and in the fashion world. In 1981, he won a Fashion Critics Coty Award for his beaded dresses. As his designs evolved, he went from a mostly black and silver palette to introducing more color and different silhouettes. He would also venture into Men’s formalwear, designing items that were highly embellished yet non-traditional silhouettes. Yet, even as his line expanded, he stayed adamant about the embellishment being hand done. ‘[They] are getting what I consider works of art.’

As the 80’s wound down and the stock market began to decline, Fabrice also changed his focus to working on custom creations for private clients. He eventually closed his business in 1994 and returned to his first love: painting. His artwork felt reminiscent of the his past intricate beadwork and have been displayed in exhibits in both Florida and New York. Fabrice passed in 1998.

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