“Tonight to me feels like the Black Met Gala,” said Shanée Benjamin, an art director and illustrator. “It’s just beautiful, so many people here, so many designers.”
Dressed in a green, crinkled satin jumpsuit by Izayla, Ms. Benjamin was standing near the bar at the New York Public Library’s main branch last Saturday night, where the 15 Percent Pledge — a drive to get retailers to devote 15 percent of their stock to Black-owned brands — was holding its first gala.
Shortly after 7 p.m., a lavish mix of more than 200 mostly Black fashion and beauty professionals, celebrities and industry executives marched up the steps of the Beaux-Arts style building for cocktails. They mingled in the main lobby as a small brass band played renditions of pop hits including “Human Nature” by Michael Jackson.
Guests included such familiar faces as the actress and model Laura Harrier, the talk show host Tamron Hall, the track and field star Allyson Felix, the actress Rosario Dawson, the model Joan Smalls, the fashion tailor Dapper Dan, the actress Nicole Ari Parker, the actor Boris Kodjoe and the model Paloma Elsesser.
“I have to say it feels really cathartic and great,” said Aurora James, the fashion designer who started the pledge, which has commitments from 28 retailers including Macy’s and Sephora. “Being able to hug people IRL after this pandemic and people who really supported and threw their all, personally, emotionally and professionally behind this idea, it just means the world.”
Ms. James wore a custom pink-and-purple dress by Christopher John Rogers and strappy sandal heels from her label, Brother Vellies. That was no accident: the night’s theme, “Black Tie, Black Designer,” challenged guests to source formal wear and accessories from Black-owned brands.
“The last 48 hours putting my fit together for this has been an eye-opening experience because it creates a deeper understanding of why this organization exists,” said Benjamin Lyons, a sports broadcaster and producer, who wore a black bomber jacket by Off-White.
After cocktails, guests moved to a large reception hall to dine on, among other things, chocolate cake that resembled a mini terrarium.
The event honored Iman, the model and entrepreneur who started a cosmetics line for women of color in 1994. “I can only imagine how different things might have been for Iman Cosmetics had I had an ally like the pledge,” Iman said onstage.
Then Dapper Dan introduced Stacey Abrams, who is running again for governor of Georgia, and could not attend. “I am honored to be among you, the change agents who understand our economy is an ideal space for justice and progress,” Ms. Abrams said in a pretaped message.
After the speeches, the Late Show’s Gospel Choir sang “Young, Gifted and Black” and “Oh Happy Day” to close out the night. The gala came to an end just before 11 p.m., before some headed to an after-party at Temple Bar in NoHo.
“This is like Black excellence to the nth power,” said Chrissy Rutherford, a fashion and social media consultant who wore a dark purple midi dress with puffed shoulders by Laquan Smith.