While the future of Maison Black will include Black designers from everywhere, this first iteration is something of a love letter to Detroit from the talent it has fostered. “Growing up in Detroit helped shape my design aesthetic,” says Maison Black featured designer Kevan Hall. “As a young man, I saw firsthand the impact rising stars like Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and the Temptations had on the Black community.” Tapped to helm the Halston brand in 1998, Hall has also dressed red-carpet ingenues and Hollywood titans alike, including Ruby Dee, Allison Janney, Gabourey Sidibe, and more. “My work has the glamour of the burgeoning stars of music and the polish of a stunning ride that’s homegrown in Detroit!” he says.
Also among the designers is self-described “fashion-design veteran” Shawnna McGee, whose 39-year career in the industry came to a halt when she lost her job at the beginning of the pandemic. After decades of working for brands like Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren and creating costumes for Donna Summer and El DeBarge, McGee took advantage of lockdown to create a collection of silk scarves and kimonos featuring her own bold illustrations. Working with Nichel is a full-circle moment for McGee. “The first time I met Tori she was this adorable teenager with big dreams that wanted to be my design intern,” she explains. “I knew from the start that she would be a force to be reckoned with.”
Rounding out the Maison Black roster is A. Potts, Aaron Potts’ unisex collection of clothing that he describes as “clean, modern, trans-seasonal”; Isaiah Hemmingway, who calls his menswear “a hybrid between business and leisure”; Sharryl Cross’s Truth, which she says “celebrates the power of feminism, individuality, and contemporary sophistication”; and Nicole King’s made-to-order N’gai, which she created for those with, as she puts it, a “keen appreciation for exceptional detail and quality.” While each designer has a distinctly unique aesthetic, there’s a kindred spirit that runs through all of them. “Detroiters have a swagger that’s unmatched,” says Hemmingway. Potts concurs: “Whether it was watching the church ladies done up in their hats, lace-trimmed handkerchiefs, and patent heels or watching The Scene—Detroit’s answer to Soul Train—I was constantly being fed creativity through fashion.”
With such a diverse selection of fashion creations in one place, Nichel is looking forward to seeing how customers respond to Maison Black. “They’re looking for a special piece that they can’t find everywhere,” she says of her ideal shopper. “They’re the ones that find the needle in the haystack.” That joy of discovery is part and parcel of the Maison Black experience, both for the customer and behind the scenes as Nichel works on the evolution of her retail endeavor. “This is self-funded, so I’m pacing the business and myself. Customers that go on this journey with us are going to see us grow over time,” she says.
In the meantime, however, the launch of Maison Black is a crucial first step toward creating brand awareness and longevity for Black designers. “Doors aren’t always open for us, and seats at the table aren’t there for us, but Maison Black is creating our own table,” Nichel explains. “We’re opening our own doors, and if it takes us longer, fine, but we’re here to see our brothers and sisters have staying power.”