Here is a throwback to the black American photographer and jewellery designer Coreen Simpson, famed for her striking black-and-white portraits and her Black Cameo pendants.
Simpson’s photographic career began in the early 1980s when she started covering political events, and snapping the biggest artists, athletes and icons of the time. An alumnus of two of the world’s most prestigious fashion colleges, the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design in New York, it was natural that Simpson would take up permanent posts as a fashion photographer for publications like the Village Voice and The New York Amsterdam News.
Simpson’s portrait of Eartha Kitt via theblackcameocollection.com
Simpson told The Fader that she realised she wanted to move into the realm of style after seeing the impact of a well-dressed man in the 1950s. “When I was growing up in Brooklyn I remember seeing a black man on Pacific street wearing an orange suit and everybody stopped. I never forgot that. He looked like a god.” Coreen Simpson went on to take snaps of the most stylish black youth of the 1980s club scene in New York City. Sadly, not much of her work can be found online.
“Ebony” by Coreen Simpson (1989-90) via BMA
Simpson began designing jewellery in the early 1980s, mainly for herself because she could never find what she wanted in the shops. Simpson would wear her own pieces whilst on fashion photography assignments in Paris, and her designs were soon picked up by fashion magazine editors. Before long, Simpson had a long list of loyal customers requesting bespoke pieces.
She launched her most iconic pieces in The Black Cameo collection in 1990 after a client saw that Chanel had just released a cameo piece, and requested a cameo that displayed a black woman. Simpson noticed that carved cameo pendants, coveted through the ages by many civilisations, were not traditionally inclusive of people of colour. So she decided she would design her own! Simpson’s cameos feature portraits of a variety of black women, designed in the hope that every black woman could identify with some of the traits celebrated on the jewellery. When the collection was released, women were lining the streets of New York trying to get one.
Coreen Simpson’s jewellery line boasted Oprah Winfrey, Winnie Mandela, Debbie Allen, and the late Celia Cruz among its fans.
Winnie Mandela wearing one of Simpson’s Black Cameo brooches via theblackcameocollection.com