Jon Haggins, Designer Who Slipped Into and Out of Fashion, Dies at 79

He had some 20 jobs in his first two years out of college, first as a pattern maker and then at a blouse company. “Blacks were the largely invisible members of the back-room staff in fashion houses during the 1960s,” he wrote in his memoir, and Mr. Haggins was not the back-room sort. “Getting hired and fired,” he added, “came easily to me.”

He began to frequent the celebrity-strewn nightclub Arthur, run by Sybil Burton, the ex-wife of Richard Burton, on East 54th Street. He dressed his regular date, a model and high school buddy named Myrna Stephens, in his own designs, a different dress every night, from which he began to create a collection.

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

Mr. Haggins’s romantic partners were mostly men, but not always. He and June Murphy, a model, met in 1970 and decided to marry. That September he turned his show of resort and spring fashions, held on the terrace of an apartment in Tudor City, into their wedding.

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

His frothy chiffon and jersey confections often took flight. At a show at F.I.T., his alma mater, in 1979, when he and other Black designers were being honored, one of his dresses flew up and over a model’s head, drawing a standing ovation from the audience. When Ms. Williams, the former journalist, married in 1980, Mr. Haggins designed the bridesmaids’ gowns: tea-length chiffon in shades of pink that were slit to the waist. The wedding was held one blustery evening at the Wave Hill public garden in the Bronx, and during the processional a gust lifted the bridesmaids’ skirts like so many sails. The minister, Ms. Williams recalled, declared, “Thank you, Jesus!”

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

Mr. Haggins was a man of grand gestures. During the blackout of 1965, he walked from his apartment to a nearby steakhouse carrying a candelabra he’d pinched from the Plaza Hotel, tapers ablaze, and ordered a steak, medium-rare.

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