Harlem is coming to Prime Video in full and living color — with a vivid costume wardrobe to match. The kind that’ll make people yearn for real places to go again.
The series, which follows four fashionable girlfriends as they navigate life, love and isms, with a love letter to the historic Upper Manhattan epicenter of Black culture woven throughout the backdrop, premieres Friday with a launch event that promises to bring the show’s — and the city’s — spirit to life.
Prime Video’s “Harlem Ever After” community event for the Amazon Original series created, written and executive produced by “Girls Trip” co-writer Tracy Oliver, will transform the Harlem Parish on West 118th Street on Friday and Saturday into a hub of culture, Black entrepreneurship and fashion.
There’ll be Harlem-inspired murals from local artists, a panel discussion by Harlem native and award-winning entrepreneur and psychotherapist Bea Arthur titled, “Harlem Hustle: A New Era for Black Business and Entrepreneurship,” and Black-owned businesses, like Mented Cosmetics and the Harlem Candle Company, will be featured at the event. Refreshments, music and entertainment will also come courtesy of Black-owned, local businesses.
In collaboration with Harlem’s Fashion Row, celebrity designer Kimberly Goldson will select designs inspired by the series and its characters, which will be on display throughout the event. Harlem’s leading characters — Meagan Good as “Camille,” a popular young anthropology professor; Grace Byers as “Quinn,” a hopeless romantic and trust-fund fashion designer; Shoniqua Shandai as “Angie,” a say-anything singer and actress, and Jerrie Johnson as “Tye” a successful, queer dating-app creator — each bring a style of their own to the show, and Goldson has worked to capture it with the collection for Harlem Ever After.
“After a preview of a few episodes, I immediately understood each character’s distinct personality and sense of style,” Gold, who will also give a talk Friday on fashion’s ability to empower through self-expression, told WWD. “The fun for me was selecting looks that went back to the beginning of our KG catalogue of 10 years through our unreleased, upcoming spring 2022 collection. I was inspired to find looks that matched Camille’s sexy, cool professor, Tye’s androgynous boss vibes, Quinn’s posh luxury and Angie’s bold and colorful life.”
When it comes to the show’s wardrobe, it’s giving everything the pandemic didn’t: fun, glamour and anything but drab leisure looks. Coats are a standout — and the dazzling display finished, in some instances, with fur-cuffed gloves, would make it seem fine for winter to settle in and stay a while.
Here, WWD chats with “Harlem” costume designer Deirdra E. Govan for some insight into her inspiration for creating the cast’s chic style.
WWD: What was most important to you in costuming the lead characters for “Harlem”?
Deirdra E. Govan: It was important for my costume designs for the show’s characters to be aspirational, yet grounded. I wanted to go beyond the surface. The style of the show is global in scope. I want to draw upon those like myself, who have lived in and experienced all that Harlem was and now is. I think you have to be here to live it, feel it, taste it, fail and succeed to really understand it. It is a melting pot with a unique cultural core and the design of the show reflects that.
WWD: Who are some key designers you drew on or returned to the most?
D.E.G.: Our ladies’ closets ranged from Alexander McQueen, Balmain, Christopher John Rogers, Rachel Comey, Zimmermann, Marni, Sandro, Alexis and more.
WWD: And please tell us about the coats — to whom do we owe these statements?
D.E.G.: Phillip Lim, Saint Laurent, Nili Lotan, Avec Les Filles, Isabel Marant, Sandro, Sonia Rykiel, Staud, Missoni, Coach, Versace, Dries Van Noten and more.
WWD: Was it also important to you to highlight Black designers with the costumes you chose?
D.E.G.: Absolutely! But it was not meant to be myopic in scope. The characters’ storylines were the guide and I wanted to make sure that these characters not only shopped and supported local designers (including Quinn herself), but also to show that the style choices of what they wore on the show spoke to who they were, where they are at a specific point in their lives. Here is just a taste of a few of the Black fashion designers I chose: Fe Noel, Brother Vellies, Malone Souliers, Cushnie, Oak & Acorn, Studio One Eighty Nine, Christopher John Rogers, Wales Bonner…
WWD: The color in the clothing is striking, even coordinating with the surrounding scenes. What were your thoughts behind this?
D.E.G.: I am a color and pattern fanatic. I’m not afraid to mix as long as there is a balance to the eye. The production designer [Javier Vara] and I have a short hand in communicating creatively, having worked together before on Tracy Oliver’s “First Wives Club” season one. During our pre-production research phase, we would often be in the same creative zone because we were so invested in the story. In my design research and mood boards, each character has a color palette that is distinctly their own and represents the arc of their story for the season.
WWD: And Harlem, the place, really seems at the heart of all of that. How did it influence what you chose to dress the characters in?
D.E.G.: Harlem is a study of contrast and contradictions. Its story is constantly evolving. There is a shedding of the old and the consistent reinvention in creating the new. The various art forms of dress have historically been influenced by many crucial moments in Harlem’s history. It’s political, joyful, edgy and irreverent. Underneath beats an eclectic soul heart. I think that Harlem’s fashion story could be influenced by movements and social change. But it is important to note that the design decisions I’ve made for these characters reflect Harlem’s own unique style vocabulary. These choices were born out of wanting to define a greater narrative of fashion for Black women. It might be based in Harlem, but the style reach is infinite. Learning from Harlem’s historic past can be a blueprint to the future. Certain styles often repeat themselves and show up in new and fresh silhouettes, textures and colors. Like all things, time waits for no one. Harlem’s fashion scene ebbs and flows in time to moments and movements alike.
A line from character Camille in the opening of episode two, overlaid with throwback shots of Harlem street scenes, gives a nod to the nostalgia for old Harlem and the Black culture and community upliftment the series channels and champions, alongside its full spectrum telling of Black women’s stories — as they face strength, weakness, triumphs and all:
“They say if you don’t learn from the past, you’re bound to repeat it. Inherent in that expression is the assumption that repeating history is bad, something to avoid. However, here in the Harlem of today, anthropologists tell us that by learning who we were, what the city was, we might get lucky enough to repeat it.”