When a Houston-based marketing executive contacted designer Stevie Edwards and offered to pay for ads in Vogue, GQ and Harper’s Bazaar, he understandably thought it was a joke.
“I did. I did,” the Chicagoan said Monday with a laugh. “But I did my research. She flew in and we went to dinner at a Gibsons Steakhouse.”
Edwards said she contacted him to say she admired his work, and wanted to offer the business to cover the advertising costs for a few ads. Even with 38,000 Instagram followers, the designer said his new supporter wanted more people to see him in a different way.
Edwards claims that he is the first local Black designer to have a full-page ad in Vogue. A model wearing one of his black floral pantsuits is featured with the tag line “The New ‘It’ Designer” and his name in capital letters. Noting how the Grammy winner Lizzo is the first plus-size Black woman to be featured on the October cover, the designer said, “I’m making history in the same issue.”
After attending the Illinois Institute of the Arts, he worked for local designers Barbara Bates and the late Reginald Thomas. In the past 30-plus years, he worked on music videos, weddings, direct-to-consumer, and had his own store at one point. Edwards launched the “I Luv Stevie” label in 2008, sells online, and works with private clients by appointment and with stylists like Law Roach.
As it turned out, the angel advertiser, whom Edwards said prefers to remain anonymous, has been buying his custom-made clothes for years. “I have been selling this lady in Houston all these clothes that were expensive,” he said. “I said to her, ‘When are we going to meet?’”
It wasn’t until they had dinner together in Chicago that he learned it was the same person. “I guess I’ve been complacent. I’ve been designing for over 30 years. But she told me, ‘You need to be bigger than this. The world needs to see you.’”
The first Stevie Edwards ad ran in Vogue regionally in the Los Angeles area, and his men’s wear designs can be seen in a GQ ad that will be out in December. The designer will showcase his first logo fabric in a May ad in Harper’s Bazaar. The actress LisaRaye McCoy, with whom he is friendly, will model the new design. “I don’t know what to feel. I feel numb — I’m on cloud nine.”
The unnamed supporter may also invest in his company, and is financing a socially distanced private launch event for the Vogue ad that will be held Oct. 17 in Chicago. “Everybody has been trying to get” Edwards to move to Los Angeles or New York City, or at least have a presence there. He is staying in his hometown of Chicago for the time being, though.
Insistent on making everything himself, Edwards said that may change somewhat due to his new, higher profile. “If I get bombarded, I do have sample makers that I can turn to. I do a lot of custom. I like to do everything. I know once you go more commercial, I won’t be able to do that,” he said.
Before the pandemic struck, Edwards’ plan was to start marketing to more cities and expand distribution with retailers. “We’re just going to see how it goes. We just have to wait on the scientists to see how this thing is shifting,” he said, referring to COVID-19.
His new supporter has also been offering advice about connecting with celebrities, which is something that Edwards has done for years. In 1989, he was the first designer to work with the musician R. Kelly, a career note that Edwards’ publicist has advised him not to mention. Diana Ross and Tiffany Haddish are a few of the other celebrities he has dressed.
He also had the good fortune of having BET cofounder Sheila Johnson discover him. After seeing his work in a college fashion show, she purchased some pieces and used them for her international traveling fashion show. “At a young age, my gowns were on stage with ones from Yves Saint Laurent, Oscar de la Renta and Emmanuel Ungaro. She kicked off my career,” Edwards said.
After three decades in the fashion industry, the designer had two words to sum up what’s next. “I’m ready,” he said.