“Tonight feels like the Black Met Gala to me,” said Shanée Benjamin, art director and illustrator. “It’s just beautiful, so many people here, so many designers.”
Dressed in a green, crinkly satin jumpsuit from Izayla, Ms. Benjamin stood by the bar at the New York Public Library main branch last Saturday night, where the 15 Percent Pledge — a commitment to get retailers to spend 15 percent of their inventory on Black-owned brands — held its first gala.
Shortly after 7pm, a lavish mix of more than 200 mostly black fashion and beauty professionals, celebrities and industry executives marched up the stairs of the Beaux-Arts-style building for cocktails. They mingled in the main lobby as a small marching band played performances of pop hits, including Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.”
Guests included famous faces such as actress and model Laura Harrier, host Tamron Hall, track and field star Allyson Felix, actress Rosario Dawson, model Joan Smalls, tailor Dapper Dan, actress Nicole Ari Parker, actor Boris Kodjoe and model Paloma Elsesser.
“I have to say it feels very cathartic and amazing,” said Aurora James, the fashion designer who started the pledge, which has pledges from 28 retailers, including Macy’s and Sephora. “Being able to hug people IRL after this pandemic and people who have really supported this idea and given it their all, personally, emotionally and professionally, it just means the world.”
Mrs. James wore a custom pink-and-purple dress from Christopher John Rogers and strappy sandals from her label, Brother Vellies. That was no coincidence: the evening’s theme, ‘Black Tie, Black Designer’, challenged guests to purchase formal wear and accessories from brands owned by Black.
“The past 48 hours putting together my fit for this has been an eye-opening experience as it creates a deeper understanding of why this organization exists,” said Benjamin Lyons, a sports broadcaster and producer, who wore a black bomber jacket from Off-White. .
After the cocktails, the guests moved into a large lobby to dine on, among other things, chocolate cake that resembled a mini-terrarium.
The event honored Iman, the model and entrepreneur who started a cosmetics line for women of color in 1994. “I can only imagine how different things could have been for Iman Cosmetics if I had an ally like the Promise,” Iman said onstage.
Then Dapper Dan proposed to Stacey Abrams, who is running for governor of Georgia again, and who couldn’t attend. “I am honored to be among you, the change agents who understand that our economy is an ideal space for justice and progress,” Ms Abrams said in a pre-recorded message.
Following the talks, the Late Show Gospel Choir sang “Young, Gifted and Black” and “Oh Happy Day” to close out the evening. The gala came to an end just before 11 p.m., after which some went to an after-party at Temple Bar in NoHo.
“This is like Black excellence to the nth power,” said Chrissy Rutherford, a fashion and social media consultant who wore a dark purple Laquan Smith puff-shouldered midi dress.