Local designer’s work lands on Vanity Fair cover portrait of Breonna Taylor

Lawrenceville fashion designer Jasmine Elder created the dress seen on Breonna Taylor on the cover of Vanity Fair. PHOTO BY KAYE MCCOY

On the Vanity Fair cover of Breonna Taylor, the young woman stands regally, one hand resting on her hip.

Taylor is dressed in a flowing, ankle-length dress with two splits that run the length of her thighs.

The dress is the creation of Lawrenceville fashion designer Jasmine Elder, owner of JIBRI Plus Size Apparel, a label for plus-size women.

The image is the September cover of Vanity Fair, created by Baltimore artist Amy Sherald, a Georgia native who also painted the portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution (which is temporarily closed because of COVID-19).

“When I got this opportunity, it was a way for me to have a creative outlet to speak to her life, the beauty she had and the possibilities,” said Elder, who started her label in 2010 after she tired of trying to find stylish clothes in her size. “It gave me a feeling of relief to be able to give that power back to her.”

Taylor, 26, was shot to death in March by police who came to her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment with a no-knock warrant.

Her death, and that of other African Americans such as George Floyd in Minneapolis and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta at the hands of police, galvanized protests against police brutality in cities across the United States.

Elder said she received an email in July from Sherald asking her about participating in a Vanity Fair cover project. The name sounded familiar.

It wasn’t until the two talked and Elder Googled Sherald that she realized who the artist was.

“She was very confident. Very matter of fact,” said Elder. Sherald had a clear vision for the portrait, she said, and she wanted to use a Black designer.

Sherald said the project was hush-hush. Elder asked who was the subject.

“She said Breonna Taylor,” Elder said. “I stopped pacing. She said I’ve seen your work. I love your work.”

ExploreBreonna Taylor graces the front of Vanity Fair for issue edited by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Like many, Elder did not hear about Taylor’s death immediately.

When she did, she was angry and filled with sorrow.

She contacted Louisville police several times demanding that the officers involved be arrested and criminally charged.

“I mourned for her life being lost,” said Elder.

A portrait of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police in Louisville, Ky., in March, is on the September cover of Vanity Fair.

Credit: (Amy Sherald / Vanity Fair)

Credit: (Amy Sherald / Vanity Fair)

The artist wanted a design that was vibrant and youthful. Not too much print.

Elder pulled together several pieces that she had already made. She showed Sherald fabric samples. She sent her a box of five to 10 dresses.

In the upcoming issue, Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, tells her daughter’s story to author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates.

“She (Taylor) was only 26,” said Elder, who never spoke with Taylor’s mother. “Her style probably hadn’t even matured yet as a woman. Her mom said she would wear that dress. They opened the split a little.”

Sherald, she said, kept her in the loop throughout the process.

Elder, who graduated from New York University with a degree in economics, didn’t see the magazine until this week and was blown away.

“It was breathtaking, honestly,” she said. “It was so powerful because of the situation. ... It gave me a creative outlet to speak to the issue and give her a beautiful dress.”

But the moment is also bittersweet because of the reason Taylor is the focus of attention.

At least, though, Elder finds peace that she gets “to leave a memory of her for the world forever.”

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