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Chester County Press

Fashion designer shares stories of creative partnership with acclaimed actress

03/27/2024 11:35AM ● By Richard Gaw
On the heels of his new book, Muse: Cicely Tyson and Me: A Relationship Forged in Fashion (Harper Collins), acclaimed fashion designer B Michael delighted guests at Winterthur’s Copeland Lecture Hall on March 22 with stories about the 12 years he served as the exclusive clothing designer for the Oscar winning actress and fashion icon.

Moderated by Kim Collison, Winterthur’s curator of exhibitions, the event was an hour-long splash of colors, textures and inspirations that provided a retrospective of B Michael’s long career in fashion, from his clothes shopping excursions with his grandmother as a child to his start in the industry as a millinery designer to becoming the co-founder, fashion designer, and creative director of B Michael Global.

“My grandmother wore these wool berets and I found myself redesigning those berets – adding things – and the idea of millinery evolved from that,” Michael said. “I was always fascinated by Coco Chanel and Halston and Adolfo, who started as millinery designers. It was my first love and I thought that was a nice club to become a member of.”

Michael first met Tyson in 2005 – when she was 80 -- and until her passing in 2021, he “built” several one-of-a-kind dresses for the actress that she wore to events that included the Tony Awards, the Kennedy Center Honors, the Oscars, the cover of Time magazine and the funeral of Aretha Franklin. 

Before he met the actress, Michael said all of what he knew about Tyson was through two of her most legendary film appearances in Sounder and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, “and now she is standing here and she said that I needed to create a ball gown in five days that she would wear to Oprah Winfrey’s Legendary Ball,” he said.

At the Emmy Awards in 2009, Tyson declared that Michael would become her exclusive fashion designer. 

“Of course, I said ‘Yes,’ but I quickly realized that it was a moment of transition, because it was a moment when she was declaring her trust, putting herself into my hands as a designer,” he said. “I knew that I had to respond in kind. It was magical in the moment, but I also knew – not knowing what the entirety of the journey would be – that it was a responsibility that I was embracing.

“When you have a relationship with your client, it’s very intimate and emotional, but when you take it to another level such as designer and muse, it becomes even more special.”

Throughout their conversation, Collison and Michael referred to a catalog of his work with Tyson that was shown on a large screen on the stage behind them. He said that part of what made Tyson a part of “Hollywood Royalty” was her appreciation that fashion should be able to transcend current fads and short-lived fashion statements.

“I love it when I see a client wearing a piece that she bought 10 years ago, 15 years ago and wearing it as if it is a current piece,” he said. “That’s when I know that my point of view has gotten close, because it should be timeless. It should always feel current and modern and have that sustainability.

“Cicely was very open to me repeating pieces on her. The idea of being timeless was what was important for us.”

Michael’s talk was the second appearance he has made at Winterthur in the last several months. On Oct. 21, 2023, he spoke with Fashion Institute of Technology Associate Curator Elizabeth Way as part of the museum’s Ann Lowe: American Couturier exhibition, which ran from Sept. 9, 2023 to Jan. 7, 2024.

To learn more about upcoming events and programs at Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, visit

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].