It has been less than three years since Sara Bunn started selling beautifully made fleece wraps to her friends and family, but her love of fashion and sewing began as a little girl. Bunn says her technique formed in her childhood days. Bunn confessed: “My grandmother wouldn’t allow me to go outside to play because she just didn’t feel it was a safe neighborhood so I had to stay indoors…I learned to sew everything under the sun: embroidery, you name it. I was like a little old grandlady sitting there.” Inspired by her stepmother’s sense of style and fashion in the 1950s as well as movies from the 30s and 40s, Bunn developed a love of dressing well that continues even now. Designing dresses in silhouettes from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, Bunn is bringing a whole new sense of style to a generation who may not really know what a slip is for. According to Bunn, “all I know is the gorgeousness of those [30s, 40s, 50s] dresses. But more so what I was noticing was that our young ladies didn’t get that. So I said ‘well maybe if I give them some color, maybe if I bring some drama, some flair, that crinoline underneath that 1950s dress, maybe I can grab their attention. And I did.”
Bunn began to combine retro silhouettes with African prints and selling them at a consignment shop in New Jersey. One dress began to stop traffic. It was a 1950s style dress, complete with crinoline in an African print with Marilyn Monroe’s face in the bodice. Soon Bunn began to think about combining other glamorous portraits in her dresses, but noticed a problem. “I kept looking at it and what was bothering me was I kept seeing Marilyn, I kept seeing Audrey Hepburn, I kept seeing everybody…but me. …How come no one put Lena Horne on a t-shirt? Where are the USA-apple pie-pin-up versions of us? How come America doesn’t like us? How come we’re not their girls?”
And so Bunn embarked on a trip through history, researching the stories and lives of heroes-both famous and lauded, and those unsung. The result was her latest BunnFunn collection, entitled “Who’s Your Hero?” Comprised of black and white dresses in a 50s style, this powerful and thought-provoking collection features heroes and celebrities such as Josephine Baker, Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr. in dresses designed to tell their individual stories. “I wanted to marry the textiles to the hero to the story to the silhouette.” So Josephine Baker’s dress includes a harlequin-print skirt because people laughed at her, with a bodice featuring the famous image of Baker in Banana skirt. The back of the dress is made in baroque fabric to represent her success-”going from broke to baroque,” according to Bunn.
But these dresses are more than tributes to these heroines of Black culture. “This is fashion with a purpose. I’m using these crinolines to get somebody’s attention,” says Bunn. The dresses are designed to be wearable art and to cause fashionistas to think about what’s going on in the world around them. During her show for Small Boutique Fashion Week Bunn had a model dressed in the Martin Luther King dress carry a sign that read “I Can’t Breathe”
also evoking Eric Garner. The dress in particular, and the collection in general, calls us to not only consider the strides that have been made for civil rights, but also to consider the pervasive racism and exclusion that persists today.
Bunn has decided to continue her collection featuring unsung heroines that do not have the same–or any–name recognition as her other heroes. This will include a custom line where women can have dresses designed to celebrate their own heroes. Bunn hopes to build out her collection so that it is both artistic and educational. The new collection will offer ways to educate a new generation of women not only in glamour and dressing well, but in an unsung history. This is fashion with purpose indeed.
Written by Juliet Vedral
Edited by Diana Forte