October 17, 2019 

By Lapacazo Sandoval 

Contributing Writer 


One of the first things that you notice about fashion designer B Michael is his effervescent smile. A picture of a confident artist living his dream. But his journey began with a brief career on Wall Street, but he wisely listened to his heart which leads him to the world of fashion with a dramatic entrance. 


B Michael got his start as a millinery designer for the '80s soap opera Dynasty. Soon after, he began designing couture gowns leading him to work with an extensive client list that includes Lena Horne, Whitney Houston, Angela Basset, Cate Blanchett, and Cicely Tyson — to name a few.


His spectacular work for living legend Cicely Tyson is included in Vanity Fair Magazine’s October 2019 Best Dress List issue. Highlighting the fact that Miss Tyson is the first actress in the 91-year history of The Academy Awards to wear an African American fashion designer—B Michael—to receive her Oscar.


Tyson received an honorary Oscar at the Academy Awards 10th Annual Governors Awards and the word spread about her dazzling dress, a silver and black ensemble, a fitted sheath gown with a bias insert bordered hemline. It was topped with a high collar pattern in 18 pieces and a cascading half train patterned in 52 pieces.


It’s important to note that everything designer B Michael puts his hands to is executed with passion and absolute precision. To wit, the textile used is vintage Gustav Zumsteg’s Abraham Silk Brocade (circa 1960s) which he pulled exclusively from his private fabric collection.


B Michael’s has been creating haute couture piece created for Ms. Tyson for a long time. Their relationship began in 2005 and considers her a “dear friend.”


Here is an edited conversation with the legendary fashion designer B Michael.


L.A. Watts Times: Wow, I love your voice, B Michael.


B Michael: Thank you, I wasn’t expecting that. I love your name. May I ask you to annunciate it for me?


LAWT: Lapacazo (La Pa Ka zo). It’s a Black Indian name. It’s beautiful. You started your design carer designing hats. Correct?


BM: Yes that information is correct. The first show that I was designing hats for was the television show Dynasty which ages me.  


LAWT: Nonsense. You are ageless. Talk to me about your journey? African Americans that succeed in fashion are (sadly) rare. What are some of the best lessons learned and if possible the best advice that you have received?


BM: Wow, that’s a great question and the answer to the questions varies from day today. We continue on the journey so each day I feel like I’m just beginning. With that said, I remember one of the most noted memories was when I presented my very first collection as part of New York’s fashion week. So, that moment was the culmination of being a kid growing up and all those dreams come true even though I didn’t realize what it meant as a total, at that moment, it meant that my dream had come true. I would say that was one of those moments not understanding that I was at a forway into what is an industry and the dynamics of it.


LAWT: Any advice that you might want to share? Something that might help another young designer of color?


BM: Well, I will say the original advice was given to me by the woman who was my publicist at the time and her name was Eleanor Lambert and Ms. Lambert, herself, was a legacy. She is the founder of the CFDA is also the founder of the International Best Dressed List. And she launched the careers of designers like Oscar de la Renta and Bill Blass and other American designers. So, for her to be my publicist was because she took an interest in my work not because I was in a position to have such a publicist, so I am grateful for that. Her initial lesson to me, however, was to learn how to edit my work and that is a lesson that I still apply today. So that was the fashion lesson but as we grow up in the industry and we continue if I were to answer the question to someone today, I would say your work is important but as important is your business model and that’s the thing that I learned later on.


LAWT: Learn your business model. That’s powerful.


BM: Yes, initially I had no clue of a business model. I presented that collection and a business model was not even on the desk.


LAWT: Thank you for sharing that with us.


BM: You are welcome.


LAWT: Let’s talk about your relationship with Cicely Tyson and the beautiful dress that she wore at the Oscars which is featured in the 2019 Vanity Fair Best-Dressed List along with Zendaya, Celine Dion, among others.


BM: [Cicely Tyson] We’ve had a long-standing relationship and a very special, meaningful relationship as individuals together however,I have been dressing her now for more than a decade and now I love to say this because this is what I feel ‘Givenchy had Audrey Hepburn, and B Michael has Cicely Tyson.’


LAWT: I love it!’ Givenchy had Audrey Hepburn, and B Michael has Cicely Tyson.’ I’m running with it! Look at me!


BM: (laughing) It’s yours.


LAWT: I was in the Tony Awards winners room in 2014 when Ms. Tyson won the Tony. Did you design the dress she wore? I remember the bright color. It was regal. Fuchsia?


BM: Close but it’s like a deep, deep purple. 


LAWT: That color was giving my life. Regal. I remember thinking that royalty has entered the room. I have seen your work on the carpet and it impacted me. Color is very important.


BM: Yes, yes it is.


LAWT: You are an artist. I’ve spoken with fine art painters who’ve shared how color often tells them what that color wants to be? How do you get your inspiration?


BM: On the subject of color, when I’m considering color, it’s the setting and who’s wearing it and I love now we no longer embrace those notions that certain skin hues that there are colors we can’t wear. We know better than that, now. Color is a way of us expressing ourselves. I believe in color. I like mixing color. A lot of my inspiration comes from visiting living gardens and looking at nature and you can’t do better than that for color.


LAWT: True. My GOD is an artist. Amen.


BM: Since GOD did the work all I have to do is be inspired.


LAWT: I understand you are a happily married man and a father, of two daughters.


BM: I am. I have a wonderful husband who also happens to be the CEO and co-founder of our company?


LAWT: The couple that works together stays together. Is that what you are saying?


BM: (laughing) That’s what I’m saying. 


LAWT: And you are a dad!


BM: Yes, I am to two, fabulous young ladies who very much a part of our lives even though they are living their lives they are very much a part of their lives. Although they are living their lives they are very much a part of us. They are four years apart and very different. 


LAWT: What have you learned about being a parent and being creative?


BM: Well, I think that being a parent, what I love about it, it’s a way of finding yourself. It’s the most unofficial, unselfish that a person can be if you're truly parenting. I think that’s my take away from it and watching their lives develop and becoming individuals, each their own, I think that’s amazing.


LAWT: What’s next for you? The award-season is just around the corner. 


BM: Really what’s next for us as a company we are crossing the lane from just B Michael as a fashion designer and we are B Michael an American luxury brand. Our focus now really is on globalizing the brand as an identity and that’s completely a different lane.


LAWT: I’m a novice when writing about fashion but my mind went to Michael Kors and his global brand. Something like this?


BM: Exactly, Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren they are what we call global brands. They are not just a designer so when I’m long gone or under the sunset somewhere the brand still lives on for generations.


LAWT: Amen. This is exciting!


BM: Yes, exactly and then we make the way for other designers we inspire them and as important we give them away and a means to move forward.


LAWT: How does one start this process? Do you design the accessories first? What comes first?


BM: I would say that from a branding perspective accessories become a very important component but the centerpiece is always the work, the collection.


LAWT: Thank you. It seems it was just a minute ago the world exploded with Michael Kors sneakers, bags, backpacks.


BM: Yes well that’s the result of branding. We liken ourselves to a Valentino or an Oscar de la Renta. Ralph Lauren is the best model but its the idea is that they build a brand and the accessories become aspirational and a way for consumers to have a piece of the brand. That’s really how you do this and that’s what we are working on. That’s what we are accomplishing.


LAWT: My mother use to collect vintage hats and vintage gloves. Her collection was impressive. When you are creating your pieces, do you think about your pieces going into a museum collection? You make wearable art. 


BM: I love your question. There are some pieces that I create for the collection that we know will be part of a museum someday. We are in fact in conversation but I can’t disclose at the moment but we are archiving some of the work and setting aside some of the pieces I want to be sure has a space to live on. I have a few clients that I do for something for them and they even feel like, wow, this is a piece that I am going to donate someday because you put a lot of work into these pieces.


LAWT: Thank you so much for your time. Is there anything that I might have forgotten to ask that you may want to add?


BM: No, I enjoyed the conversation. I like your balance of art, a little business. I enjoyed it. I look forward to meeting you in person.

Category: Arts & Culture