A Sustainable Life. Make Magick.

Inspired: Stephen Burrows, The Optimist.


Vogue September 1977 Burrows

Vogue September 1977 Layout with Jerry Hall, Iman, Pat Cleveland and various models holding Stephen Burrows.

I have had major NYC envy lately. Public art installations, cherry blossom festivals and central park come to mind…. But my design loving heart is pining away for not being able to make the Stephen Burrows retrospective at the Museum of the City of New YorkStephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced. The exhibit encapsulates a grand display of Burrows designs from the 60’s through the 70’s.

 “The essence of Stephen Burrows — be happy when you’re in the clothes and have fun with what you’re wearing. I’m very simplistic about things like that. That’s just how I am.”                                                              –Stephen Burrows to WWD

Both of Stephen Burrows’ grandmothers, were sample hands for Hattie Carnegie in the 1920s. He went to art school then graduated from FIT in NYC. He started out making pieces for friends while working as the designer for a blouse company until he and a friend began a small boutique which closed in the late 60’s. He was then invited by Geraldine Stutz President of Henry Bendel to work in the Henry Bendel studio where he was mentored by Pat Tennant the head of their design studio.  In 1970 Burrows launched his collection Stephen Burrows World at Henry Bendel where his kinetic designs were well received.


Stephen Burrows World Collection by Henry Bendel Photo: Charles Tracy


Photo Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

In 1973 Burrows was one of the five American designers who participated in the historic  fashion spectacular at Versailles, a benefit event to restore the Palace of Versailles. Top American and French designers faced off for high fashion bragging rites, with the underestimated Americans coming out on top and leveling the fashion playing field.

A documentary on the event, Versailles ’73 will be screening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) April 22nd. I hope to make it to the screening! The show broke color barriers in fashion with both Burrows invitation and its use of a dozen Black models in the American show in this international platform. Burrows won the Coty American Fashion Critics award in 1973, 1974 and 1977.

Known for his extensive use of jersey, viscose and other “touch friendly” fabrics, lettuce leaf hems, bright endless use of color, metallics and pattern mixing it should be needless to say Stephen Burrows is one of the pioneers of color-blocking.


Photo Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

1968 Evening dress

Photo Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art


Photo Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

In 1977, The New York Times called Burrows the “brightest star of American fashion.”  His style of clothing became a kind of standard uniform at Studio 54 and was seen on the likes of free spirited icons, Cher, Liza Minelli and Diana Ross. Stephen Burrows is still designing and has continuously reinvented his career, but the breadth of this retrospective on his early career is just jaw dropping.

Did I say how very sad I am to not make it to New York this spring!?I would have loved to see the extensive collection of photographs, drawings, and original garments. The exhibition will be on display into July.

If you can, go and enjoy. If you’re like me, and won’t make it, let’s revel over the exhibit’s coffee table book Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced. Le Sigh.


Photo: Charles Tracy 1973

stephen-burrows-1972 lettuce leaf wrap dress

Carol La Brie in Burrows’ 1972 Lettuce Leaf Wrap Dress


Stephen Burrows Fire Island Collection 1969 Photo: Chalres Tracy


Pat Cleveland and Stephen Burrows c.1972


Author: sweetvanessaleigh

I am Vanessa Leigh, maker, writer and witchy goddess in training.

3 thoughts on “Inspired: Stephen Burrows, The Optimist.

  1. Pingback: 4 fashion exhibitions you should see!

  2. The pictures 2nd and 3rd from the bottom are of Carol La Brie not Pat Cleveland.

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