Fashion

Jon Haggins, designer who slipped in and out of fashion, dies at 79

ProDentim

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He held about 20 jobs in his first two years out of college, first as a pattern maker and then at a blouse company. “Black people were the largely invisible members of the backroom staff of fashion houses in the 1960s,” he wrote in his memoir, and Mr Haggins was not the backroom kind. “Getting hired and fired,” he added, “came easy to me.”

He started hanging out at the celebrity-studded Arthur nightclub, run by Richard Burton’s ex-wife Sybil Burton, on East 54th Street. He dressed his usual date, a model and high school pal named Myrna Stephens, in his own designs, a different dress each night, from which he began to create a collection.

In 1966, when he had 12 pieces, he called in the editors of fashion magazines and Women’s Wear Daily, which was the first publication to cover him. The editor who came to see him told his colleagues, he recalled, that she had just discovered “a tall, ebony young man with the most inspiring fashions.”

Mr. Haggins’ love partners were mostly men, but not always. He and June Murphy, a model, met in 1970 and decided to get married. In September, he turned his resort and spring fashion show, held on the patio of an apartment in Tudor City, into their wedding.

It used to be a fashion convention to end a show with a model dressed as a bride. Mr Haggins dressed his bride in a purple print with a trailing purple sash painted with a butterfly, which wrapped around the two of them as they said their vows. But the marriage lasted only a year and a half. He was, by his own admission, chronically unfaithful, and the divorce was bitter. Their marriage “was a very special moment in my life,” he told The Times in 2017, “and I wish it had lasted.”

Her frothy chiffon and jersey confections often took flight. During a runway show at FIT, his alma mater, in 1979, when he and other black designers were being honored, one of his dresses flew over a model’s head, prompting a standing ovation from the audience. When Ms Williams, the former journalist, married in 1980, Mr Haggins designed the bridesmaids’ dresses: a chiffon in shades of pink with a split at the waist. The wedding took place on a blustery evening at the Wave Hill Public Garden in the Bronx, and during the procession, a gust of wind lifted the bridesmaids’ skirts like veils. The minister, Ms. Williams recalled, said, “Thank you, Jesus!

Mr. Haggins is survived by his sister, Carolyn Grant.

Mr. Haggins was a man of grand gestures. During the 1965 blackout, he walked from his apartment to a nearby steakhouse carrying a candelabra he had plucked at the Plaza Hotel, burning candles, and ordered a steak, medium rare.

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