Clothing with “Reference” Summer 2006 Studio Magazine

In well-kept brownstone on the tree-lined streets of Sugar Hill

Sistahs of Harlem has set up shop. White walls surround racks of colorful clothing, tables topped with scissors, paper, pencils and fabric, and shelf upon shelf of research. Carmen Webber and Carmia Marshall, the savvy couturiers behind Sistahs of Harlem, have mastered the art of mélange.

Since 2001, their eclectic and elegant creations have graced the streets of New York City and beyond, with women’s wear that ranges from military-chic miniskirts to Grecian-inspired dresses, and from ornamented hat to t-shirts with ruffled, knit sleeves. Inspired by the fusion of cultures and tasted in New York’s global community, Sistahs of Harlem pieces are cute, conscious and ladylike, and pay homage to groundbreaking African Americans such as Assasta Shakur, James Baldwin, and Billie Holiday.

Because they are dedicated to creating what Webber call “clothing with reference,” Marshall and Webber don’t simply blend the colors and patterns of different aesthetics in search of a new trend. Instead, they quote diverse ideologies, moods and movements, mixing media in the broadcast sense: the intellectual avant-garde meets the sumptuousness of silk screens, the written word meets the pinstripe and a soaring guitar solo meets the detailed embellishments of a denim jacket. Past collections include the visionary less Femmes du Monde, the prescient Rastafarian Street Punk, Sisterhood of Wings’ aria to the female firsts in flight and this spring Cosmopolitan Goddes, a modern ode to femininity-of-color. This summer, a how-to that puts a Sistahs spin on a sportswear classic. With their customary blend of vintage and couture, Webber and Marshall reveal step-by-step secrets that transform t-shirts into halters, peasant blouses, tube tops and camisoles with a twist.

Telling the stories of women of color through fashion, Webber and Marshall merge the political with the simply beautiful, proving that fashion can be as intelligent as it is stylish. Sistahs of Harlem continues to affirm and build upon the legacy of adornment that is so rich in this neighborhood – no doubt Harlem’s spot on the fashion map is in good hands.