HYDE PARK — Fashion designer Stevie Edwards was living out his dream of dressing Hollywood stars with his original designs when he was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer.
Now, after two years of battling the disease and draining finances to pay for treatment, the Washington Park native and his family are turning to the public for help. A GoFundMe campaign is trying to raise $30,000 to provide round-the-clock care for the designer as his condition worsens.
For Aretha Edwards, watching her baby brother battle the deadly disease has been heartbreaking. The family is at its limit at what they can provide on their own, she said. She hopes the fundraiser makes its goal so he can remain as comfortable as possible as he fights the disease.
” … He needs 24-hour care. The family has been trying their best to support but there’s only so much we can do,” said Aretha Edwards. “We’d have to put him in a facility for him to receive the rehabilitation care he needs because he can’t do anything for himself right now.”
That Time Diana Ross Called
Stevie Edwards was barely out of high school when he got his big break.
One of 10 siblings, Edwards attended Dunbar Vocational Academy, where his favorite teacher, Mr. Clayton, taught him the fine art of tailoring. He then studied fashion design at what was then called Ray-Vogue College of Design, later the Illinois Institute of Art.
It was there his work caught the eye of Eunice Johnson, Ebony Magazine matriarch and Fashion Fair founder, who fell in love with Edwards’ designs and featured them in a 1986 edition of the magazine.
That led to an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show in the late ’80s. Johnson became Edwards’ first major client after that, buying several pieces.
“She was the first person that bought a design that he had put on a show. I think it was something that was really inspirational to him. And he just went forward from there,” Aretha Edwards said.
Catching the attention of Black Chicago royalty left Stevie Edwards in awe.
“I literally was in high school and I didn’t know my own strength back then.,” he told Block Club. “I didn’t know what that meant — being picked by her to show my gown on an international stage, with Oscar de la Renta and Bill Blass and all those bigwigs. I had no idea. I went to her condo on Michigan Avenue and met with [Johnson] and her daughter, Linda, the following day, and Linda and I became friends.”
He kept Mr. Clayton’s teachings in mind as his star continued to rise. He worked with Patrick Kelly and Barbara Bates, the latter rising from working-class roots to become a fashion maven/socialite in her own right.
Then Diana Ross called.
“It was around the time of her ‘Return To Love’ tour, and I’m driving down Lake Shore Drive when she calls me,” Stevie Edwards said. “At first I refused to believe it was her. She tells me she loved a dress I sent via one of her people, and that she wants me to design dresses for the girls on tour with her. I told her I can do it. She says, ‘Great. I need 50 sketches on my desk by tomorrow morning.’ At this point I’m panicking because I don’t know what to do.”
He ran to Columbia College to find an illustrator who could flesh out the sketches in his head, getting the task done with minutes to spare. When Ross’ tour stopped in Chicago, he received a personal invite to attend.
It was then he realized he was in rarefied air. The fashion heroes and heroines who had once been the subject of glossy magazine spreads he pored over in his youth were now in his address book.
“I looked up to them. I knew all about the European designers but I wanted to find Black designers. So I looked to Patrick Kelly and Willi Smith and Stephen Burrows. I was inspired to open up my own boutique, which I did. It was called I Luv Stevie and it did exceptionally well,” Stevie Edwards said.
He got the opportunity to thank Mr. Clayton years later at the wedding reception of a mutual friend. Alzheimer’s had ravaged his mentor’s memory by then. He wasn’t sure if the old teacher had remembered him, but he wanted to thank him just the same.
I Luv Stevie
Edwards launched his I Luv Stevie line in 2008 after previously running boutiques in Hyde Park and Gold Coast.
After perfecting his concept, he found a storefront on 18th and Wabash and set up shop Nov. 8, 2008, the day another Chicago son was elected the country’s first Black president.
I Luv Stevie remained there for a few years until the building went into foreclosure. He was renting but didn’t have the funds to buy the space, so he was forced to leave, he said.
Still, the work continued. Edwards’ fashions would be worn by the likes of actress Lisa Ray, reality TV star Claudia Jordan and comedian Tiffany Haddish.
He and Haddish took an immediate liking to one another when they met backstage at a concert in Huntington Beach, California, Edwards said.
“Her stylist reached out to me and asked for a dress. It went from there. Tiffany fell in love with me and she has over 30 of my dresses, if more. She has more than anybody,” he said. “She was just so welcoming and heartfelt. Just a sweet person.”
After spending most of his life in Chicago, Edwards was ready to give the West Coast a try, moving to Los Angeles in 2021 for more industry opportunities. He was still getting settled when his health began to fail. A trip to oncologist didn’t reveal anything, but Edwards knew something was wrong. A visit back home to see his doctors at Northwestern Medicine finally provided a diagnosis: lung cancer.
He started chemotherapy immediately, and the treatments seemed to be working, he and his sister said.
But the cancer has spread, and what little medical care Medicaid covers isn’t enough, he said.
Edwards blew through his savings. The chemo treatments had to be stopped because they were taking too much of a physical toll on her brother’s body, Aretha Edwards said.
Dozens of donations totaling around $6,000 have come in as of Tuesday, including two from Haddish. Edwards said he is grateful for the support. It gives him a reason to keep fighting.
“I’m normally a very private person and was not crazy about idea of sharing my diagnosis with everybody, but my family made me realize there was nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. “Talking about it is kind of therapeutic. So I’m ready to tell my story now.”
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