Everything Greenleaf’s Lady Mae does commands attention, but as of late, it’s the fabulous kimonos the character played by Lynn Whitfield has been wearing on the final season of the OWN drama that have caught our eye. And Cedric Brown is the Black designer behind them.
“Prayers and dreams do come true,” the 29-year-old fashion designer told us via email. “Since high school, I dreamed about having my pieces on the big screens. “Growing up, I was a big fan of Giorgio Armani. In his biography, he wrote that he got his start making the suits on the hit movie American Gigolo so I knew that I wanted my work featured on the big screens too.”
Brown has fellow Greenleaf star Lamman Rucker to thank for helping make that dream come true. The Atlanta native saw the actor at one of his trunk shows and decided to approach him with an offer. “I asked, ‘If you shout me out on social media, can I give you one of my pieces to wear?’ He responded, ‘If I’m going to let somebody pimp me, it might as well be my own people.’ We both smiled.”
Rucker told Brown he wanted to buy some pieces from him to give to the show’s costume designer Johnetta Boone so Brown sent her a direct message on social media and told her about the referral. “To my surprise, she responded and followed me back. A few weeks later, I met her and costume buyer Lisa Smedley. My persistence paid off.”
Boone requested all of the pocket squares from Cedric Brown Collections for Rucker’s character, Jacob Greenleaf, and she bought two kimono capes for Lady Mae. A few days later, she contacted Cedric and told him Whitfield loved his pieces and she commissioned yet another kimono for a special scene that needed to be completed in a month.
It was Brown’s professors at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where he received his B.F.A. in Fashion Design, who encouraged him to blend his background as a painter with his apparel. Wes Gordon, Carolina Herrera’s Creative Director, advised Brown to start with one item and he chose scarves. “My initial signature silk scarves attracted customers, gave me name recognition, and provided sustainable social media followers. Since my first $200 investment, the business has grown exponentially,” Brown shared.
Now, as a full-time designer, Brown designs dusters, socks, neckties, pocket squares, and face masks in addition to kimonos, and he’s even been asked by Whitfield to create special pieces to wear off set. “After completing the project for Johnetta Boone, a week later Lynn Whitfield requested my number and called me personally to get more designer pieces. I screamed on the phone when she called. I couldn’t believe it. As much of a fan as I was of her work, she said she was a fan of my designs as well. She told me to call her ‘Auntie Lynn.'”
Brown’s kimonos were a staple of “Auntie Lynn’s” Essence Fest wardrobe last summer and she also stunned at the United Negro College Fund gala in Atlanta in his design. Whitfield even commissioned an original painting from Brown which was made into postcards and giclee print on canvas that she gave to staff and cast of Greenleaf staff as an end of the season gift.
“This opportunity is very powerful to me. About 10 years ago, I attended the Allen Entrepreneurial Institute, and we made elevator pitches about our future. We stood on the steps with the owner of the mansion, Bill Allen. He told us that our dreams could come true. ‘Believe, Conceive, and Achieve’ was his belief. Ten years later on those same steps the show Greenleaf is filmed, you have the entire Greenleaf cast sitting in the mansion, with the leading, Emmy-award winning, actress wearing one of my kimonos. That was a real example of speaking things into existence.”
Brown’s story is also an example of what using your professional platform to propel another’s career should look like in our community. “We have to support Black designers like the big brands. We have to give our Black designers chances to showcase their designs and talents,” Brown said. “Tag and boast about Black designers just like you do with Dior, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and other big brands. The industry needs to be ready to adopt change. Everyone deserves an opportunity to work in the field.”