Harlem hatmeister, Bunn, turns sidewalk into runway

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Special to the AmNews | 7/22/2011, 11:48 a.m.

Harlem's master milliner, Bunn, held his annual summer fashion show on Sunday in front of his Harlem shop, turning the sweltering Seventh Avenue sidewalk into a colorful runway. It was hot-literally. But the heat didn't deter the community faithful from bringing their lawn chairs, umbrellas, and water bottles to brave the sauna and catch a curbside view.

The show was, as always, a mix of local design talent and Bunn's extraordinary chapeaus. Sunday's show featured designs by 23-year-old Fredericksburg, Va. resident, Shannon Thorpe. Her collection, which paid homage to the "Great Gatsby" era, featured clean, easy, tailored, lightweight designs. Madge White of Madgic-New York showed off colorful Afrocentric inspired designs as did longtime Brooklyn favorite, Brenda Brunson-Bey, whose colorful and unique pieces was the show-stopper.

The clothes were easy to wear and elegant, making one wish that summer would last just a bit longer. This year's show, titled "Believe the Hype," was a real community affair.

"I've been doing the show out here for nine years. The purpose is a give-back to the community. It's a positive thing that I try to create up here because the community gives me a lot. There is one young designer, Shannon Thorpe, Madgic New York Madge White and my old friend, Brenda Brunson-Bey.

We came through the same time frame, trying to put an Afrocentric spin on all of this from the early days. The shop has been here nine years and I opened it up with a fashion show," Bunn told the Amsterdam News.

"The show has grown. We are getting more people, newer people, a mix of young and old people. The young designer is bringing in a young element. We've got to start grooming young designers and giving them that opportunity. This is a perfect platform for it.

"My name is on this thing but everything here is a collaboration of people. The music is being done by my friend Ron. Everybody is participating. One friend brought water and ice and another friend brought his music. This is what it's all about, everybody participating to make it happen," he said.

"Bunn is once again taking it to the street. It's a pleasure to be here. I love these sidewalk features," said Brenda Brunson-Bey, who closed the show with her Tribal Truth collection.

"I'm doing a couple of lines. I have one that shows my signature line, which is a logo line that I started. I've got t-shirts matched up with skirts and pants. It has my logo, and, the back has adinkra symbols, which lets us know that all of this originates from Africa. I'm doing a couple of small collections with two or three pieces of the same fabric. I like odd things and mixing up fabrics. There's lots of color and lots of flow for the summer," Brunson-Bey said.

Young Shannon Thorpe was the new kid on the block and happy to show off her design talents.

"I'm doing a more tailored look today, casual pieces and more formal pieces, such as blazers, reversible vests and dropped waist. I take my inspiration from the Great Gatsby and the 1920s and '30s. History is everything to me, so I like bringing pieces back and reinventing them. This is a spring/summer collection, all in off-hue pastels," she said.

"I got introduced to Mr. Bunn by my aunt, Phyllis Thorpe, who lives here in Harlem. He asked me to be in the show. I came up from Fredericksburg. I just graduated a year ago from design school at Mt. Ida College right outside of Boston. I'm happy to be here. This is my first showcase," Thorpe said.

Keeping everyone deliciously hydrated was Extraordinaire Personal Chefs and Caterers, whose fantastic cucumber lemonade was a welcomed treat for the hot and thirsty crowd.

The show featured a parade of more than 40 outfits for both men and women. The show-stopper was a magnificent Afrocentric pantsuit from Brunson-Bey, featuring bold print, wide pants legs and a cutout midriff. Model Rain worked the sidewalk and the crowd closing the show on a thrilling note.

After the show, many headed inside Bunn's shop to congratulate the designers and to purchase an item or two. The milliner was hard at work fine-tuning hats for the inspired crowd.

Brenda Brunson-Bey's Tribal Truth Collection is located at 117 South Oxford Street in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Hats by Bunn is located at 2283 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. For more info call (212) 694-3590 or visit hatsbybunn.com.