"Were You Runway Ready?"

Last Saturday, June 12, I had the opportunity to witness the upcoming fledgling talent from the young designers of Project Stitch Studios. The show dubbed "Runway Ready" was the annual fashion show meant to showcase and celebrate the student's elaborated collections in a true runway form. The show took place at West Potomac Academy's Spring Bank Theater located in Alexandria, Virginia. I walked in about 20 minutes before the show indicated time of commencement (it started about 15 minutes late) and I spotted Project Stitch's studio director and former teacher/mentor of mine Maggy Francois (a.k.a Ms. Fancy-Faboulous-in-chief) wearing a chic black jumper that looked like it was meant to be designed for her, holding a clipboard in hands just like a true Boss Lady. Potomac's main hallway was flooded with folks trying to peep at what the exhibitor stations had to offer. These included a variety of clothing and accessories stations. One of the ones I spotted first, was my good friend Nick's. He had his line of dope Eyebone t-shirts in display awaiting to be picked up by a hip young customer that were sure present in abundance. I already own about six of his pieces, so I served as a spectator. We exchanged a few words, and then I headed to one of the back rooms to meet and interview a few of the models. I was also expecting my new friend Lynice from DMVintage but I didn't see her 'til after the show, she told me didn't do it because she was late. I was bummed because I really wanted to see her pieces. (Sidenote: My photographer couldn't make it to the show due to personal and professional reasons (yes, I was pissed),  those pictures would have been exclusively shot for "De La Style" only. However, I have the privilege of counting with equally skilled photogs such as Walter Grio and Phil Kogan who granted permission for their pictures to be posted here).

I walked in and I was greeted by a clutch of lengthy young women wearing casual clothing managing in towering heels. I immediately recognized two ladies from America's Next Top Model, Bianca Golden and Isis King. They were seating by a corner, I approached them and introduced myself and asked them for an interview, they sympathetically agreed. I started with Bianca since Isis went to grab a cupcake. Bianca, not only is not your typical model, she's is a correspondent for the Tyra Banks show, CW, and E. Also, I was pleased to learned that she's also working with young girls from her foundation. Bianca proceeded to tell me on the projects she is currently working on which included fashion and beauty editorials for magazines such as "Control, Colors SIsters" and another one she couldn't reveal because she was under contract. I was curious on how she ended up hearing about the show, "Maggy (Francois) contacted me via facebook", she said, with those vivid red lips. "I think it's amazing what they're doing, they're getting exposure and that's great for the industry" she replied in regards to the young designers of Project Stitch Studio. There is no question the hit-model-maker-factory America's Next Top Model launched a few careers for now established models,"it introduced me to the world and got me great connections."

Along came Isis wearing a short printed dress with a cut-out inset who seemed to be hyped up from the calories of the consumed cupcake. After I sincerely complimented on her dress, she incessantly responded "I made it", with panache, she started rapidly telling me about her fashion degree from the Art Institute and the distinguished honor of receiving "best evening collection". I felt she even got more excited when she was telling me about her future movie titled "Bella Maddo", directed by Janice Danielle. (I didn't really asked much about the movie since I thought we were getting off-topic, but you watch the trailer here). We moved onto a more touchy subject. When I was watching one of the cycles of America's Next Top Model, I saw Isis for the first time posing as a background model for one of the contestants. I noticed there was something "interesting" about her. Next cycle she tried out and got casted. And I wasn't surprised to learn she was transexual. I remember Isis being a dominant force on the show and the buzz she created when she was announced as one of the participants. Nonetheless, she made history for being the first transexual on the show and opened a lot of doors for more "nontraditional" models. I asked her if the fact that she was transexual had any effects in her career. "Of course" she replied with condifence, "A lot of people have an idea of what a transexual is, and I'm the opposite of that, it makes it harder, but what am I suppose to do? Not be me?". Though we only spoke briefly, I sensed the strong spirit of this young lady. She spoke with grace and sureness that felt inspiring. Besides being a runway model, Isis also serves as a motivational speaker at different college campuses across the nation. In case you haven't had the chance for Isis to enlighten you, she has a formspring account, where she has already answered over 300 questions regarding trans related topics. Drop her your questions here (http://www.formspring.me/isisking).

After my interview with Bianca and Isis I sprinted off to the Springbank Theater thinking I was already late (time is never my friend). I noticed the theater was filling in, most of the front part seats were already taken, but I headed down to the front row, where the seats displayed medium-size white signs that said "VIP". I don't see myself as a VIP, but I received my invitation on the mail and I was part of the press, so I thought the front row was a befitting place for me to sit. I was sitting by the end of the front row, on the middle section, where I had a close enough view of he runway so I could take notes, and also where I could see what everybody was wearing. 

I had a bit of a dilemma last days shy of the show. I didn't have a look in mind, but the day of the show I decided for a Calvin Klein white shirt, H&M plaid tie and black slim pants, Gianfranco Ferre black belt, Dolce and Gabbana black lace-ups, and one of my favorite pieces in my closet, a grey vest I modestly confectioned. As I look around the room, I see pretty stylish people, but then on the other side of the spectrum, I was just disgusted at what I was seeing. I remember this guy who wasn't seating not far from me, sporting a random hoodie, cargo shorts, and flip-flops, I was like "are you serious!?" in my head. I was just appalled at the lack of effort. At one point I thought "why are these people here?". Perhaps some of them are friend's of friend's with evident little interest in fashion, so attending a fashion show just to see your friend walk a runway is not a good enough reason in my book. At least, they could've pretended that they have some minimal interest in "style" since the phrase "sense of style" is not part of their vocabulary.

The show started late (just like any other fashion show. Marc Jacobs' shows used to start about 2 hours late). But when the theater lights faded creating an intimate setting, while the stage was vividly brighting, the crowd which was largely composed of young faces went bunkos. Two lines of black-clad young ladies formed at the each side of the theater. They were shouting something that I couldn't quite catch due to the obstreperous noise from the crowd. They started walking towards the stage and did their little walk and pose routine (see picture above). I thought their toungue-in-cheek t-shirts that said "I love you, but I love fashion more" certainly brought some smiles to people in the crowd. 

The introduction was made and the two hosts were presented, one of them was Military Style Guide for Teens' Ryan Charchain and self-tittled "The Diddy of the DMV" Kenny from KAS Collection. The unusual duo made the crowd get up and Kenny even attempted to make us dance. I couldn't believe it. He claimed that show was not a velory and that "we're here to have fun". I was with Kenny on this one, but I wished I was at a club to duly let loose. They did lifted the mood of the show, impetuously making comments about the collections presented and giving out free gifts to a few people in the crowd with the best runway walk. 

The first designer we saw was the lovely Kim Truong, who was wearing a sexy lipstick red tube dress with short sleeves. When I was first met Kim about 2 years ago, she seemed to have a shy demeanor, preferring to let her creations talk for her. I'm glad she has loosen up and seems to feel more comfortable around me (Kim, I don't bite). She said her collection was "vintage and military" inspired, and that probably came across the loudest on this rose-printed halter top dress with a small cute bow on the front. I love the fact that she sticked to a color (white/ivory) and made it a strong presence on the collection. She opened up this amazing lace bustier top draped skirt and silk satin belt, and also presented versions in strapless, babydoll and one of my favorites, a long-sleeve in white lace with puffed shoulders. I also saw two men's look, the one that seemed more military inspired was this white sweater with a a draped collar and epaulets (I want it). The last look, though it was a beautiful green strapless gown, felt out of place. It looked like an after-thought. The color was too outlandish against the serenity of the light, sensible dresses. Nonetheless, her collection has a tremendous potential to be taken to a whole new level, and her talent is nothing less than remarkable. 

Sam Mintah, the brain behind Ugglee is this young brotha with big dreams. I been familiar with his work for the last 3 years and I'm glad to see he's still on his grind on his way to the top. He presented his "Forever Ugglee" collection which "represents struggle" as he said on his intro. Sam is known for his use of knits, a fabric he feels comfortable working with. And of course, his penchant for big buttons. We saw his usual numbers such as cardis and sweater dresses, but what felt somewhat new was his use of color and attention to details. He opened up with this v-neck bi-colored sweater in black and chocolate brown (I want it) and protruding pockets that amped up the design. He sticked to darks tones with pop of colors such as lime green and deep purple. His most successful women's' piece was this soft baby pink cardi that can be worn in multiple of occasions. I love the fact he dared a new technique, there was this knit tube skirt with ruffles diagonally cascading down on the front. Unfortunately, that was the only piece with any kind of ruffles, but it's a territory he should explore more. I didn't necessarily felt his struggle in this collection, if that is indicative of the dark palette, but I felt his passion for the craft. The work he puts into his line was evident on the runway. I think everybody, including me, wanted to grab one of his pieces right off the models' back.

One of the guest models, besides Isis and Bianca, was a pin-sized model not even reaching puberty by the name Diva Davanna. I first saw her on a random video pulled from a source I can't remember now. She was amongst girls twice her age, walking in a mediocre runway, wearing a big fur coat by some little-kown designer. The scene was probably in Maryland if my memory doesn't fail me. Her walk had the grace of a gazelle and the strut of Natasha Poly. It certainly reminded me of a young version of Naomi Campbell. Not resembling the looks, of course, but there was something so captivating about a 9-year old damsel possessing similar runway-stomping abilities of top-ranked models. That was left to see live at the show. When she walked out with no previous warning, I was just taken aback at what I was seeing. She is nowhere near 5 feet tall, but had such a command and assuredness when she stepped onto that runway. I was even more struck when she walked with a dog on leash and on her way back the dog paused, while keeping her composure she looked back and the dog followed her, and made that part of her performance, as if that was planned. She managed it seamlessly with no evident errors. But then the question rises, what does that tell you about a 9 year old having the best walk out of plethora of young women way beyond her years, more developed figures, and reasoning skills? I'm sure you heard the saying, "some people are just born with it", and that's perhaps what applies here. (Sidenote: By the time the show was over, and the crowd flooded the hallways, I dashed off expecting to get a few words from Davanna, but there were no signs of the tiny superstar)

A few days before the show I stopped by the studio to get a preview of the collections. I also intended to make this an opportunity to interview the designers. When I walked in a saw the racks of clothes, perfectly positioned at the middle of the room, each with a label in front for each respective designer. I instantly noticed models getting fitted at the back of the room, and a few making last minute arrangements on their garments on the sewing machine. It was an organized chaos, that I'm familiar with. I was unfortunately walking with crutches (that's a WHOLE different story) so I sat down on a nearby chair and waited on the designers. My friend Ashley was there to record the interviews (clips of such interviews were meant to surfaced the net days shy of the show, but the results were unsatisfactory so unfortunately nothing was uploaded). 

The first two that came my way were Emily Shockey and Sonya Inderbitzin (the third designer Nuku Wollor was not present at the moment), the girls behind "Territory". I was curious on the name they've chosen, "We couldn't decide on a name, we had to pick something that summed up everything". At first glanced, I noticed on their rack earth-tones were dominant shades in their collection, "It represents different areas, such as oceans, tundras, green areas". The collection, composed of 16 looks, ranged from a high waisted khaki trouser and hot pants, sexy skirts worn with strapless tops, and silks printed blouses that resembled a mixture of streams of paints. There was also this shimmering lime-green silk tie-neck-bow blouse that looked magnificent on the model. I appreciate the fact that these young ladies, stepped into a territory that some might find troubling, the bravura of showing a wide range of pants, blouses, skirts, etc, is not an easy task. But I was a bit concern on how maturely the collection looked on the runway. It was such an unexpected feeling, since the pieces looked great on the rack, but when I saw them put together on the show, I was unfortunately wholeheartedly underwhelm. Nonetheless, there were some fantastic, well-constructed pieces, such as the unprecedented first look, which was a strapless royal blue gown, which was the first dress they constructed inspired by "mermaids" and the last look which was a simple knee-lenght strapless dress with a silk golden skirt and feather detailing coming up diagonally across the chest. Gorgeous!

"Indie Chic", the collection presented by Latasja Rousey and Kiandra Faulkner looked more appropriate for a day in Cancun, than heading to work at Wall Street, which there is nothing wrong with that. Latasja told me that the collection "tells two stories, worker type and business-wear". I might have misunderstood, but I was leaning more traditional suiting when she mentioned "business-wear". I saw a lot of party clothes which may have reflected the mood that these two young ladies felt when designing the collection. The first looked set the toned. It was a strapless soft-pink fringed top paired with silk white flaring trousers adorned with a tulle bow-tie head piece (the trousers looked so well made, they could have been Michael Kors). The collection felt feminine and fresh, nothing really too complicated. There were jodhpur cropped style pants in pink and silk chocolate brown, silk cheetah printed top and used as belt in a pleated brown day dress. And rich yellow cocktail dresses, one with rosettes adoring the cowl-neckline and the other with black beading at the top. I love the dress Bianca was wearing, which was a tricolored strapless mini which reminded of Neapolitan ice-cream. The clothes had a tropical attitude to them, such is that when I asked Latasja (Kiandra was not present during the interview) on who would be the ultimate girl who would wear her clothes, she responded "Rihanna". What I had no idea of what included on the collection where the "Venom" shirts. They came in black, white and yellow, and featured a glittery spider creeping on the lower back (I want one). 

One of the invited guest designers was Betsey Johnson, not the woman, but her boutique in Georgetown. When Betsey Johnson was being presented, I'm sure lots of people in the crowd thought that the blonde woman standing on stage, who was one of the store reps, was actually her. I wouldn't be surprised if someone came up to me and said "did you see Betsey Johnson?, I love what she was wearing!", not demeaning the level of known-ness Ms. Johnson posses, but I felt like people were not familiar enough with her name nor her clothes. A while back, one of my acquaintances, asked "Who is Betsey Johnson?" while we were passing by one of her boutiques, (ironically, it was the one in Georgetown). He was taking a fashion design class, and hangs out with "fashion" people, I think I vaguely answered his question and I think he sensed my level of madness, so he kept quiet. The collection shown composed a few of the elements Betsey is known for. The perverted playfulness of the layered   tee with ruffles dresses, the quirkiness of a stripy pajama knit transformed into a dress with a drape at the back, and vintage-inspired pieces that came in corseted dresses ad leggings. I also felt there was a recurrent theme from last season, the 19th century can-can cabaret scene-inspired pieces such as the black flared ruched skirt with ruffles at the hem, worn with a dice-printed top and the skimming pink pistol-printed peplum dress with spaghetti stripes. 

The last collection we saw was "Lilly Leu" designed by Alana Leuterio and Lilly Guerra was mainly composed of cocktail dresses. On the day I stopped by the studio, the girls were busy finalizing their collection. They seemed shy towards me, even one of them did not want to be on camera claiming, she wasn't "camera ready" though she looked pretty decent. They told me their collection was "really girly, stuff that we like", they completed each other sentences. They also added, "something you would wear out with your friends". I was thinking "mall", but after I saw the collection I think they met "prom". They told me they wanted to use "happy colors" and that meant, lime-green, turquoise, deep purple and bubble gum pink. It was a rainbow. Their more day looks consisted of a silk flower-printed one-shouldered blouse with a short skirt that had a bizarre cutout on the side, and a bustier top of the same fabric worn with a high waisted turquoise skirt. Some of their evening pieces looked lovely, such as this silk shiny one-shouldered tiered ruffled cocktail dress, a seductive draped deep-purple dress, and pale yellow silk gown. As I mentioned before I was sitting in the front row and I saw EVERYTHING, and when I say EVERYTHING, I mean EVERYTHING. One dress came out in a beautiful red print, and I noticed threads were hanging off the bottom, no bueno. However, I see a lot of potential in these two young ladies, they both told me they wanted to pursue design, and I hope Alana and Lilly would refine their skills at VCU and Marymount respectively. 

When I left the show, the images that were embedded on my head was from Emore'J Couture's collection. The first time I heard about Emore'J I was skeptical at first, but I saw a glimpse of his world through a picture he had in his profile. I clicked on a link to his website, and I was enlightened. I immediately sensed he loves the drama, his pictures depicted a level of avant-garde and abstractness that makes him standout from the mundane. Fashion is often described as a form of self-expression and this young man utilizes that form to completion. Emore'J's creations don't say to me "D.C." but "Paris". I was anxious to what he was going to show at West Potomac, was he going to create a toned-down collection for this crowd? Or was he going to show his last collection tittle "Apparatus 1"? 

Emore'J comes out in true flamboyant form, in an ensemble composed of tailored purple short-shorts, bow tie, and a blazer with his name emblazon on his arm and a glittery full-scale butterfly across his back. He was making his statement. He comes up to the microphone, almost out of breath, but collects himself and talks to the crowd, on his brief intro he mentioned his collection was inspired by a "dark age and time". The first model comes out and the crowd raptures in "Ohhhs", "Awww", laughs and I'm sure a few "wtf's". She looked like she just steeped out of a Spielberg movie, the model was wearing a smeared veil over a tricky hat that resembled a lamp shade and a black corset. The look itself topped anything else we seen before and heralded what was to come from the designer. The color scheme was simple, compact and forward: black, white, grey and touches of gold. The obscures designs included; a black bodysuit with strips of trash bags worn as a skirt, quilted overcoat, an oversize corset like piece made out of what looked like burned aluminum-foil and his show-stopping last dress made out of a combination of layered black fabrics, a ball made out of wire, worn as a headpiece and a silver child-doll in lieu of a handbang. His menswear was just as thrilling, an oversize white jacket worn with skin-tight latex leggings, a flimsy layered cape that opens at the front shown with horse-riding helmet, an armour-like body protecting gear with huge golden cones worn as gloves, and the ultimate test of virility, pantyhose and a leather corset.

Upon reflecting on the essence of the collection, I found similarities with the late Mcqueen, not surprisingly, he's one of the designers he looks up to. Emore'J used unconventional materials for this collection, a trip to Home Depot might have similar finds, managed to transformed those materials into (arguably) wearable art. Alexander Mcqueen's Fall/Winter 2009 had a chic-recyclable-avant-garde vibe that somehow filtered into this collection. Moreover, I commend Emore'J for putting out such great imagery and stand proudly behind his work. A quality every designer should embrace. His sophomore collection titled "Apparatus, The Rapture of Nesir Slegna" would be shown on August 1st, 2010 in Washington D.C. I can only hope I would be swept off my feet once again.

Runway Ready was such a successful event for two reasons. First, it launched a batch of up and coming students with big fashion dreams into stardom and gave them a glimpse into what their careers would be in the future if they followed this path. It gave them a sense of awareness and armed them with abilities needed to tackle the industry. Secondly, because it united folks with the same interest in an affluent area ready to eradicate this infamous facade of bad taste and be known for its affluent and rich fashion. 

All the photos used here are from Walter Grio from shootforchange.com and Phil Kogan.