A report by Brooke Boob for Vogue.
Katiuscia Williams fell in love with fashion at church. Her mother commissioned bright ensembles from local seamstresses in their hometown of Miami and Williams was enchanted by the bold styles. She also credits her love of what she calls “high-effect palettes, patterns, and materials,” to the fact that she grew up in a Caribbean household. Williams knew from a very young age that fashion was a world in which she wanted to live and work, and so she enrolled in Miami’s Design and Architecture Senior High School, studying fine arts and fashion design. Williams went on to Parsons where she concentrated in knitwear, learning how to operate both domestic and industrial knitting machines. As she explains it, from there, her “work began to examine themes such as the misrepresentation of race and gender through fashion design and textile art.”
Williams titled her thesis collection “Hood Dandy.” It’s now a fully-fledged knitwear label inspired by the identity politics of the Black male in the U.S. She crafts and runs Hood Dandy entirely on her own in New York and sells her collections by special order. The social justice and political messaging that undergirds Hood Dandy has always been important to Williams, but with the rise of the social justice movement in the U.S. and a global pandemic that is disproportionately affecting the Black community, Williams’s work feels more vital than ever.
Here, Williams discusses work and why she will always celebrate the fact that “Blackness is a multiplicity.”
How did you conceptualize the name Hood Dandy?
Hood Dandy is the construction of a new and optimistic attitude towards Black men, with heavy reference to past Black fashion and culture. I was tired of society perpetuating stereotypical representations of Black lives. With imagery of fetishized cliches of Black lives consuming culture, people often accept and continuously perpetuate stereotypes. The diversity that exists within the Black community is not acknowledged.
Hood Dandy researches the complicated aesthetics and politics at work in the depictions of Black men in the post-Civil Rights era. I wanted to focus on Black masculinity and dissect how it tends to function as a site for projecting and placing America’s worst fears. The name and concept came from merging the looks and aesthetics of the 1970s, the stereotypical tropes of the late 1980s, and the emerging hip-hop scene of the early 1990s. Through genderless clothing, Hood Dandy aims to introduces a new meaning to Black masculinity; one that is far from the imagery that society has carried through time.
The largescale needlepoint pieces you’ve posted on your Instagram as tribute to Breonna Taylor and George Floyd are so beautiful and powerful. Can you tell me a bit about the process behind those works and why they were important to you both personally and creatively.
Coming from a fine arts background, I knew that I eventually wanted to go back in that direction. I had been playing with the idea of knitting works of art with the same yarns that I use to knit garments. However, honestly speaking, with being quarantined and dealing with constant reminders of racial injustice in the media, I had very little desire to be creative. Like many people, the death of George Floyd shook me. I cried throughout the rest of the day, picturing the possibility of that being my father or brothers. One morning, I felt the urge to try and honor Mr. Floyd in a way in which I could also express creativity. I began knitting the piece and decided to share on Instagram. It was moving to see that what was created as a way to cope with a painful moment would resonate with others.
In honoring Mr. Floyd, I knew I had to do the same for Breonna. Breonna was 26 when she was killed. I think about how I’ll be 26 next year. Her mother said she had big dreams and planned a lifelong career in health care after serving as an E.M.T. Black women deserve so much more yet are often left out of the conversation of injustice toward Black lives.
Do you feel or see a genuine shift in the way that the fashion industry as a whole is now responding to work like yours that represents the Black experience? If so, how do you view this shift and are you hopeful that the industry can move toward sustainable change in terms of its history of systemic racism?
Hood Dandy’s mission is to represent the underrepresented. Being a Black woman, it is my goal to create work that embraces diversity, inclusivity, and creativity at its core. At the time of Hood Dandy’s inception, I was within multiple systems, including the fashion industry and fashion schools and institutions, where people that look like me are severely underrepresented. How much has changed since then? I’ll say we have a long way to go. With the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many more, we witnessed an international uprising only because society was forced to face the reality of these injustices. Everyone’s stuck in the house and distractions were limited.
I hope that the amount of ‘activism’ I witnessed over that period of time was not simply for a ‘feel-good’ moment, but will be sustained, long-term change. It’s not about simply highlighting and showcasing a few token Black individuals and thinking the work is done. The fashion industry and fashion schools can do better in countless ways, by acknowledging systematic racism, manifestations of white privilege, microaggressions, and racial inequality amongst staff, administration, and executives. Change must begin at the top of these institutions. Now more than ever, it’s important to elevate and celebrate Black voices within the industry, all while guaranteeing them equal rights and treatment within fashion spaces. In my opinion, the worlds of fashion, design, and art are much more interesting anyway when the diversity within it is actually highlighted.
Your knitwear piece that reads “Blackness is a Multiplicity” is quite a powerful statement as well. Can you explain the genesis of this statement and what the fashion and art industries can learn from it?
During my final year in college, I knew that I wanted to take as many classes as possible to aid in the research that was needed for Hood Dandy. One class that was very helpful in addressing race within the fashion industry was called ‘Fashion and Race,’ taught by Kimberly M. Jenkins. Another class I decided to take was called ‘The Concept of Blackness in Art’ taught by an amazing professor Adrienne Edwards. I was able to study art movements and styles such as the Harlem Renaissance, Negritude, African Modernism, the Black Arts Movements in the United States and in the United Kingdom, as well as Conceptualism and Abstraction. Throughout history, the function and significance of Blackness within art has been ever-changing, from art as the crucial purpose of promoting the acknowledgement and equality of the Black race to art simply in favor of aesthetic appeal and free to serve its own ends. Hence, Blackness is a multiplicity.
Worldwide, the global pandemic has resulted in people living in a state of hypervigilance and anxiety, coping with feelings of uncertainty, fear, and vulnerability. However, the harsh reality is simply that these are things Black people in America experience on a regular basis. Knitting ‘BLACKNESS IS A MULTIPLICITY’ on this piece serves as a reminder that Black people will always rise and challenge any constraints or limitations placed on us. I’m hopeful that the energy of this statement can be recognized and matched within the industry sooner rather than later.
What’s next for Hood Dandy?
My biggest artistic goal would be a continuation of Hood Dandy through a new body of work consisting of fashion and art collectively, all of which continues to touch on important subject matters such as Black culture, Black portraiture, Black fashion, and the Black experience. I’m hopeful that I’ll receive the financial and operational support to reach these goals.