Madame Willi Posey

Willi Posey, left, at her fiftieth birthday party. From We Flew Over the Bridge by Faith Ringgold

Willi Posey, left, at her fiftieth birthday party. From We Flew Over the Bridge by Faith Ringgold

Willi Posey Jones Morrison (1907-1981), mother of the author and artist Faith Ringgold, was a late starter in the fashion business. After raising two daughters and working for a children’s garment manufacturer, she decided to become a fashion designer in the late 1940s. She attended the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and opened up her Harlem business as Madame Willi Posey.

I learned about Madame Posey in Faith Ringgold’s autobiography, We Flew Over the Bridge (1995). Ringgold relates what it took to launch a career in fashion in Harlem in the fifties and sixties. Her mother publicized her skills by staging fashion shows, the first in 1950. Eventually she collaborated with other Harlem designers and milliners in more elaborate affairs. Faith served as emcee and occasional model for the shows.

Madam Posey specialized in weddings. In the sixties she went to Africa and began making the African inspired ensembles so popular during that decade. Later she branched out to make clothes for older women. “She could cut a pattern from a person’s measurements that would fit like a glove,” writes Ringgold. “Mother could make a person who might otherwise be difficult to fit look great.”(75)

In the seventies, Posey began help her daughter make soft sculptures and textile frames for her paintings. One of her last acts was to collaborate on a quilt with Ringgold called “Faces of Harlem.” Learn more about Madame Posey and her famous daughter here.

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4 Responses to Madame Willi Posey

  1. Thanks for sharing this photo of Madame Posey and three other elegant women. I first saw a book about Faith Ringgold’s art in the children’s section of a local library; I immediately went looking for other books by and about her. I’m not sure that her “50% women artists” goal at the Whitney museum has been reached, but in 2007 the Whitney staged a superb retrospective exhibit of the powerful works of Kara E. Walker — who was then only 38 years old! Kudos to Faith Ringgold and others for opening the door a little further. There’s a long review of Walker’s 2007 Whitney retrospective at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/12/arts/design/12walk.html?_r=0&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=2&adxnnlx=1420229344-d/pA2LGZQpwI2hHjtbQ9jA

  2. JetSetSewing says:

    Willi could make a dress for me anytime…she looks fabulous!

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