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From Kamala Harris to Beyoncé, Sergio Hudson dresses women in charge

Scarlett Newman, CNN

While he launched his brand back in 2014, it’s in the last couple of years that South Carolina-born designer Sergio Hudson has achieved major international recognition and established himself as a powerful voice in American fashion.

His recent success is in part thanks to his role in dressing both Vice President Kamala Harris and former first lady Michelle Obama during US presidential inauguration proceedings in January last year: Harris wore one of Hudson’s custom designs — a jet black sequin cocktail dress and floor-length tailored coat — just hours after Obama stepped out in head-to-toe plum ensemble. Both looks made headlines and had an undeniable impact on the 37-year-old’s career.

Sales reportedly spiked after the historic event, and the label has been picked up by prominent luxury fashion retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Net-a-Porter. Speaking days before his latest show at New York Fashion Week, Hudson described his swift ascent as a “rollercoaster.”

“I try to stay grounded,” Hudson told CNN Style. But, indicating he’s set his sights even higher, he continued, “when you’re building something…to be as big as I want it to be, you kind of have to just buckle your seat belt and hang on for the ride.”

Growing up, Hudson said his muses were his mother and sister — a “fashionista” and a working model who loved dressing up. He attended his sibling’s fashion shows on a regular basis and gravitated towards movies with strong female leads like “9 to 5” and “Boomerang,” specifically citing Jacqueline Broyer, played by Robin Givens, an impeccably dressed woman at the top of her industry, as a long-standing source of inspiration.

Nowadays, Hudson is no stranger to dressing powerful women. Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and Priyanka Chopra have all worn his authoritative silhouettes, some well before his breakout moment at the inauguration.

“When I see women, I see them at their finest and I want to dress them to meet that moment,” he said. “So my women are always powerful and always in charge.”

Hudson has also become a champion of classic American sportswear, an aesthetic defined by designers like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger. The significance of a young Black designer creating his own lane in the same category is not lost on Hudson, who is proud of his heritage. “Despite what some people may think, I am American,” he said. “We are descendants of slaves that built this country, so if anybody is American, we are.”

For his Spring-Summer 2022 runway presentation he enlisted a diverse roster of models including industry veterans Beverly Johnson, the first African American model to appear on the cover of American Vogue, and Veronica Webb, the first African American model to land a major cosmetics contract.

Hudson wanted to bring back the “joy of dressing” in this new collection and took his audience on a glamorous safari holiday, extra large-brimmed hats in optimistic hues included.

Models eased down the catwalk to Beyoncé’s “Grown Woman,” which he said was a starting point for this collection. Super-sized leopard prints in varying silhouettes made way for a series of pleated leather skirts and dresses and signature belted suits.

“I thought about Cher and Dionne from ‘Clueless,’ Lisa Turtle from ‘Saved By The Bell,’ and Whitley Gilbert from ‘A Different World.’ What would these women wear if they went on a safari in Africa?” he said.

He also paid homage to the staging references of 90s catwalks by sending models down in threes, something you’d see at the shows of the late Gianni Versace or Karl Lagerfeld.

Corseted dresses also channeled the mid-90s designs of Versace, who Hudson grew up “obsessed” with.

“It’s really fun and cheeky,” he said of his latest collection. “A little more girly than I normally am, so I’m excited.”

Leaning into a more playful tone, Hudson explored sexier shapes including mid-length skirts with high slits and several deep “V” necklines.

“Let’s bring back the joy of fashion…and have some fun,” he said. “Wear a bright color for no reason. Let’s not be so serious.”

Hudson hopes his designs will energize New York’s fashion scene. “I believe that New York as a fashion capital has lost its luster,” he said. “Everyone looks to Paris and Milan for fashion and I feel that there’s still so much here and it’s beautiful and we have our own voice. We’ve just been kind of quiet for a while, so I’m trying to champion bringing New York back to the forefront.”

Top image: Sergio Hudson Spring 2022 at New York Fashion Week.

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