Elegance from Detroit

hen Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street" was released in 1964, Kevan Hall did just what the song said.

The Detroit native was barely a teen, long before his journey as a fashion designer began. He remembers the summer well. The world was entranced with the Motown sound.

"I absolutely danced in the streets," Hall says from his studio and business headquarters in Los Angeles. "It was such a great time, great music."

For more than 30 years, Hall has been infusing his Detroit roots into glamorous collections of exquisite red-carpet gowns and tailored women's separates. Among those who've selected his dresses for Hollywood award shows and other occasions of extreme glamour are Yolanda Adams, Shakira, Vanessa Williams, Felicity Huffman, Kimora Lee Simmons, Nicolette Sheridan, Taraji P. Henson, Brandy, Kate Walsh and that icon of style in the White House, Michelle Obama.

Last year, he expanded his offerings to include a line of bridal wear. "We received many requests for bridal gowns as girls want to look more sophisticated as though they are on the red carpet," he says.


Next on Hall's agenda: "To build a global brand to include sportswear, shoes, bags and products for the home."

Clearly, he's far from finished making his mark on the universe of fashion.

"Those groups like The Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas looked completely glamorous and sophisticated at a time when they weren't a lot of Black artists out there," says Hall. "They were so inspiring. All those artists at Motown from Marvin Gaye to Diana Ross looked super-refined and sharp. Those images have stayed with me."

Hall grew up in the Detroit's Livernois area and spent much of his childhood watching his mother dress up in fashionable hats, gloves and the "perfect" shoes. He recalls the stylish boutiques and specialty stores that lined Livernois Avenue, then commonly known as the Avenue of Fashion.

"There was an innate sense of style and pride with the way women pulled themselves together," Hall says. "Back in the day, it was a matching, accessory and detail kind of a look. Impeccable."

At age 7, Hall began sketching clothes while watching "The Ed Sullivan Show" and other variety programs. He would hum Motown songs to help him create looks for the entertainers he would see on television.

Hall didn't know there was a profession called fashion designer. He simply loved to sketch.

Ideas flowed easily. According to his Cass Technical High School art teacher, he was good even then. "His flair was not just fabulous drawing. It was accurate, careful, diagrammatic drawing, so that you knew exactly how the garment was made," says Dr. Cledie Taylor, also the founder and director of the Arts Extended Gallery.

According to Taylor, who taught New York-based fashion designer Tracy Reese at Cass as well, Hall wasn't her most "wildly" creative student, but rather "a very good craftsperson."

While on a high school field trip to New York, Hall visited the institution now called Parsons New School of Design and toured the city's fashion district. "I had all those great experiences because of Cass Tech," he says. "It opened up so much for me and allowed me to see the possibilities of having a career in fashion. It was a whole new world."

Hall ultimately won a scholarship to attend Los Angeles' Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, where he earned a degree in fashion design. He worked for a variety of fashion companies and started Kevan Hall Couture in 1982 with his wife, Deborah.

In 1988, he was named one of California's top designers and received the NAACP's Great American Designer award. His collections were praised for blending glamour and art in a wearable fashion line. Hall became creative director of Halston in 1998 and created gowns for Angela Bassett, Salma Hayek and Sharon Stone. He helped revive the brand, which had lost much of its luster during the 1980s.

Hall left Halston two years later to again launch his own signature line, this time named Kevan Hall Collection. It's been a highlight of Los Angeles' fashion week runway shows ever since.

Paying tribute to Diana Ross and Motown, Hall created a runway show and collection for fall 2006 inspired by her 1975 film "Mahogany." The line featured rich jewel tones and dramatic dresses resembling the dramatic costumes in the movie.

"The music and feel of Motown is always a part of me," Hall says. "It's fun to go back and revisit it. I've been fortunate to have iconic muses who are always around me. Diana Ross is one of them." Though Ross was not at that show, two of her children were seated in the front row. 

As much as he finds inspiration in Detroit's culture and music, Hall is also inspired by the city rich's automotive history. Designing cars would be a dream, he says, recalling a special edition Lincoln Continental by fashion designer Bill Blass in the late 1970s.

Hall's gowns were featured in a Detroit fashion show that showcased luxury and sports cars in 2008. That same year, he says, "I was honored to show my "Africa: A Safari" collection at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. That collection highlighted the Masai, Ndbele and Zulu tribes with their colors, patterns and jewelry."

A reprise of his Los Angeles runway show, television personality B. Smith was one of his models at the museum. "It was nothing short of a fabulous experience to be able to model in his fashion show," says Smith. "He works with colors, patterns and textures that are always stylish yet somehow ahead of the trends. He is a visionary in the fashion industry-a true trendsetter."

According to Smith, "Every woman who wears his designs becomes instantaneously glamorous. He is truly unique in his ability to make any woman feel like a star," Smith says. That includes women in metro Detroit. Gowns from his evening wear line are available at Roma Sposa in Birmingham.

Between participating in benefits such as July's Celebration 4 A Cause: Where Music Meets Fashion for a Cure in Atlanta, and other fashion events, Hall is now working on his spring 2012 line.

Says Hall, "It's really a privilege to be able to do design and do something I love. It's also a privilege for people to have the means to buy beautiful clothes. It's a privilege to have people see what I do."

And it's a privilege to be able to claim Kevan Hall as a product of Detroit.


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