Born: Nelson Clyde Barr in Philadelphia, 16 January 1946. Education: Studied applied arts at Philadelphia Museum College of Art; fashion design at Mayer School of Fashion, New York, mid-1960s. Career: Designer, Allen Cole boutique, New York, 1966-69; cofounder, Barrie Sport, Ltd., New York, 1969-82; menswear collection and Barrie Plus collections introduced, 1974; also designed dresses for S.E.L., mid-1980s; loungewear for Barad, furs for Barlan; moved to Milan, 1982; formed Scott Barrie Italy SrL, in partnership with Kinshido Company, Ltd., of Japan, 1983; designer, Milan D'Or division for Kinshido, 1983-91; designer, signature line for Kinshido, 1983-91; freelance designer, Krizia, Milan, 1986-88. Died: 8 June 1993 in Alessandria, Italy.
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Scott Barrie was one of a group of brassy and vibrant black designers and models to establish themselves on New York's Seventh Avenue in the late 1960s. Influenced by his godmother, who had designed and made clothes for sonorous and volatile jazz singers Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan, Barrie began designing in 1966. Although he graduated from the Philadelphia College of Art and the Mayer School in New York, his mother was not initially encouraging about his future in fashion designing for Seventh Avenue. "Blacks don't make it there," she warned her son—Barrie quickly proved her wrong.
Describing himself in the 1970s as being midway between the crazy extremes of Zandra Rhodes and Herbert Kasper, Barrie quickly established himself as a designer of sexy, often outrageous clothes. His eveningwear was particularly noteworthy: skinny gowns sprinkled with pailettes and dangerously high splits, or jersey slips that slid tantalizingly over the figure.
He began making clothes in his New York apartment, with a makeshift cutting table and domestic sewing machine. His first orders were from small independent boutiques but success came when prestigious stores Henri Bendel and Bloomingdale's in New York placed orders for his sparse and revealing jersey dresses. By 1969 he had christened his company Barrie Sport and moved into spacious workrooms at 530 Seventh Avenue.
Barrie's forté was the sensuous use of jersey, cut in inventive and unexpected ways, from which he created elegant and often risqué eveningwear. Popular devotees of the Barrie were extravagantly beautiful model Naomi Sims, who always ordered her clothes in white, and Lee Traub, wife of Bloomingdale's then-president.
Barrie also designed ranges of loungewear, furs, and accessories and was involved in costume design, creating clothes for films and the Joffrey Ballet's production of Deuce Coupe.
The intermingling of culture and race on New York's Seventh Avenue in the 1960s brought a new sort of creative energy that challenged accepted standards. Barrie's models did not parade the catwalk with elegance; instead they boogied wildly and arrogantly, with a streetwise brashness. It was a testimony to the changing times that the clothes were accepted at the higher end of the ready-to-wear market.
Barrie enjoyed being a fashion designer, but acknowledged the hard work and competitive nature of the business. In the early 1980s he ceased designing under his own name, taking a position with the dress firm S.E.L. as a designer. For the later years of the decade and the beginning of the 1990s, Barrie designed for the Italian design house Krizia and for the Japanese firm Kinshido. In 1993 Barrie died of brain cancer in Alessandria, Italy, he was 52.