Crystal Couture - The Show

What's not to love about fashion when it's celebrated in its most natural form? A week long celebration of such occurred last week in the heart of Arlington, Virginia. Some of the top designers and retailers in the DC Metropolitan area showcased their distinctive collections for the upcoming season in true fabulous runway presentation at Crystal Couture (for my international readers, this is not couture week in Paris, it's just a word we like to use a lot, probably too much). As I mentioned in a previous post, a special VIP/press preview was held on January 31st, and runway presentations were held from February 1st to February 5th. Crystal Couture was all conjured by Angela Fox, president of Crystal City BID; Mitchell Schear, president of Vornado/Charles E. Smith; and of course, my fabulous fashion mother Maggy Francois (Janice, from the Capitol Fashionista recently interviewed her, read it here), who had the patience, passion and vision to produce such monumental event.

Approximately 28 designers and retailers participated in Crystal Couture festivities. They all came from all parts of the district, representing a different point of view (bridal, menswear, sportswear), but with a common passion for fashion. Having witnessed many of their collections graced the runways throughout D.C., I was familiar with almost all of them, but there were still a few that remained in anonymity. Now, they have come to light. My first major fashion moment was seeing Philippa Hughes from The Pink Line Project in a Balenciaga skirt in the opening night. From a far distant the skirt looked rather familiar, as I approached her the first name that came to mind was Balenciaga. She confirmed my doubt and thanked me for noticing. In case you're curious, it was look 17 from the fall/winter 2010 collection. 

I witnessed a ridiculous amount of clothes throughout the week, by the time the last collection was shown on the last night, I felt overwhelm with the avalanche of clothes. The amount of notes I've taken virtually covered half my black leather Moleskine. But don't take this as bitching, I would never get enough of fashion. I was initially planning to attend two or three nights, but I found myself there almost every night due to the persistent requests from a mix of people showing on different nights at different times. And there is no better feeling knowing people acknowledge your's truly humble opinion. 

One of the first designers I saw was Tashia Senn, trained in one of the most prestigious schools in the country F.I.T. (she later told me she still has mentors there). I was enamored with her strapless canary yellow silk chiffon gown she showed on the press preview, but she later dazzled with a fall line including a white lace jumpsuit, shift dresses in metallic leaves prints, a diaphanous yellow blouse with a beaded skirt and a silver jacquard skirt suit. "The collection was 50's inspired", Tashia told me after her fabulous girls came down the runway. She also confessed it was the glamour of stars such Kathryn Hendrick that inspired the line, evident in some of the shapes seen through the collection. The clothes looked, as she once said, "uber-feminine" and the fabrics looked super luxe. It was an exploration of an era that inspired and still does some of the greatest designers in the world. The collection just screamed Glamour (with capital G). Check her previous collections here

photos by Phil Kogan

Etna Cavalcante, one of the few representatives of the Brazilian fashion community here in Washington D.C., showed a collection that spoke of a youthful and lively-spirited voyage to Brazil for Toucan Boutique. The exotic color palette of the clothes were relevant to her heritage. There were sherbet orange, cherry red, sea blue and white. I particularly loved a quaint flower print summer dress in a soft lilac and a cotton tank with a print that resembles spiked rose stems, shown with silver jeggings (see below).

One of the designer that kept coming to mind after I left was Marina Astafyeva. A native from Moscow, Russia, who prefers her clothes to speak for itself. Her line dubbed MarinaAsta was romantic and poetic.  Her shapes were simple, evident in a one-sleeve shift with a hand painted opened tulip on the front. Her standout pieces were gorgeous wool coats exposing the wrist in shades of black, red orange, and white (on Ethiopian model Dazzy Docho). They had a bevy of rosettes appliqu├ęs ever so delicately placed around the waist and collar. That alone spoke volumes on her craftsmanship and attention to details. They sure had a vague air to Valentino's romanticism, but as we know they were by Marina (I purposely made the second picture below bigger so you can appreciate the craftsmanship and bask in all its glorious enchantment). Check her clothes on etsy here

I met Lara, native of Nigeria, designer of L-Shandi helping a young lady trying a few of her clothes. Her collection was decisively African inspired, celebrating her heritage and the allure of African women. At first glance, the fabrics looked exquisitely opulent, then I later learned they are derived form West Africa. The picture below perhaps embodies the attitude of the collection; modern, fun, loud and proud. There were sensuous strapless pieces in black and white, skirts in jacquard with golden embroidery, and tops in silk cotton with abstract prints. When I was talking to Lara, she exuded a desire to blend the lines of non-conventionalism and wearability, "I want African women to wear my clothes without looking like a costume", she said "blend in, but still stand out". 

Natalia Sanz's collection (see below) for next season was a perfect mixture of what women desire the most: wearability and comfort, without compromising one's figure. The collection was virtually composed of solids in shades of lipstick red on a crew neck top and a simple shift shown on Monday. There were also neutrals such as black and dark grey. What I appreciate from Natalia is the cut of her garments, shown on a pleated shiny skirt and an open neck shift with a black belt. That's perhaps what sets her clothes aside from banality. I also sensed there was a nod to sports entwined in the collection, a front zip jacket with silk straps on the side shown with a grey jersey skirt. 

I think it's also important to note that Natalia was present every night showcasing her current and previous collections. Unbeknown to me, she also had a jewelry line displayed on her table, which I was glad to hear she sold a few pieces. Check her website here

On Thursday night, there was a t-shirt competition open to the public. One of my good buddies Oscar Saravia (picture below), who I first met on my junior year of high school, was one of the few contestants. Knowing first hand his abilities as a graphic designer and artist, I was elated when I heard he was going to submit one of his designs. The contest consisted of creating a t-shirt design related to Crystal Couture. The models came out to the runway wearing the designs from each representative designer, it only seemed a matter of seconds that a tee festooned with Christmas lights forming two large crystals was announced as the winner, much to the dismay of many. I later heard the contest was not open to the public for "xyz" reasons, but then the legitimacy of it seemed dubious and biased. I think many would have prefer to have an open contest, where each designer could've at least have an opportunity to explain the concept and thought process behind their work. 

I was inquisitive about his design, so I gave Oscar a chance to express himself, and he proceeded to email me the picture below taken after the contest with his sister and friends wearing his design. "This piece is the first of a series named the monstro' Iconic series. It derived from two different designs I've drawn up and combined into one. I got the dramatic black and white figure from one series and combined it with another that had a a lot of colorful shapes", he states on the email. He adds, "My first inspiration was that Crystal Couture cares about the local fashion scene. I also fed off from the previous times I went to the Crystal Couture shows. My colors came from the luminosity and the feeling I got from being at the shows those nights; various tones of beautiful pinks, purples and blues. What I wanted to capture was the essence of fashion' strength. The globs ascending from her floating hair was to show the intensity of the moment. I wanted to slow things on the runway as a model is in her moment. Slow it down so much that she is frozen in her confidence of self, symbolized by the uni-brown. The crooked smile on her face signifies pride in creativity". Oscar also notes the design was hand drawn by him and digitalized by Nick Fulcher. Not only I was glad to reconnect with Oscar on that night, but I'm even more excited to witness what he has up his sleeves. 

As I mentioned on the previous post, Carlos Reaves was also part of the festivities (his off shoulder concoction was donned by the beautiful former America's Next Top Model contestant Sandra Nyanchoka). Carlos likes to play with proportions and, through his work, reflect his ideas of what the future holds. There was certainly a sense of exploring the new on those orbit-like straps protruding from the models' shoulders, and his use of small reflecting square shaped mirrors adorning, usually, the waist. I've seen the collection on a previous occasion, not implying it was boring. Instead, this time, it shined in a different light due to the almost blindingly reflectors fixed to the ceiling. Even thought there was nothing I haven't seen, he introduced a new piece, a languid one-shoulder shocking pink gown with those aforementioned tiny mirrors festooned to the sleeve (see below). His designs are fun, relatively futuristic and for a woman who is not afraid of the new. DJ Neekola (who was in the house) wore one of his designs (picture below, model on right) to her recent Playtime album release party. 

One of the best edited collections of the week was by Marcella Somuah of Consignment Diva (photos below), who sent out an eclectic collection with the help of Adrian B. Harris. The array of clothes they showed for women was virtually consisting of chic fur coats, one of my favorites was a pelted shrug by BCBG, and I also loved the buffalo plaid asymmetrical coat below, tres chic! 

Their men's presentation seemed like it was inspired by a mad British bloke, a nod to 80's punk and bespoke tailoring. There were plaid cotton pants in different color combinations worn with striped button ups, with either sweater vests or a quaint denim one, all accessorized with prissy bow ties. The anti-establishemnt, subversive aspects were seen in rolled up beat-up denim jeans worn with leg warmers and kilts affixed to suspenders shown in shirtless buffed models. I was enthralled with the juxtaposition of the garments, a bit of formality mashed with something not-so-formal. A way of dress I find attuned to today's youth. I was later surprised when I briefly talked to Adrian and learned this whole thing just came out as a "spur of the moment", given the amount of work put into the presentation. Furthermore, B. Harris also mentioned he wanted to find strength and for him that meant "combining textures, such as camouflage, striped, and leather". He adds, "When you wear a tuxedo you don't want to look like someone else, so adding boots, and leg warmers changes the whole look." Before their presentation Marcella even told me, "Harris is still in the studio working on the last piece" which was a full skirt in camouflage worn with a black top, and a huge bow wrapped around the model's neck. If that's spur of the moment, I wonder what would have came out with advanced preparation. 

Sam Mintah, designer for Ugglee, presented a collection that signaled to 70's Sonia Rykiel. Sam's niche is jersey knits, a fabric most designers stay away from due to the intricacies of maneuvering. That alone is commendable. But then not just making half-ass clothes, but actually producing wearable, fun, and youthful clothes for his counterparts is admirable. Mintah opened up with a few chocolate brown knit jackets with a zipper cutting diagonally on the front, then he smoothy moved into a softer color of mocha seen on a comfy cardigan. There were also women's pieces such as low-cut cardis in baby pink featuring big buttons on the front (a motif present throughout his entire collection), a grey zebra printed sweater dress and a slew of colorful striped concoctions with a rather timid amount of frills diagonally adorning a skirt or adding pouf to a sleeve. I like Sam not only as a designer, but as a person, he's amicable and hard working. He's currently planning his next move, and I can't wait to see what he's going to show us next. 

One of the best designers of the entire week was Kim Truong. I thought her collection had moments of decadence, and on the other side of the spectrum, there were sweet, innocent hints. There were black dresses with variation of lace, a black tight mini skirt worn with a revealing knit top. There was, of course, the dress shown at the preview, the deconstructed lace gown, now shown on a different model. Also, the baby-doll shape dresses in cotton or silk exuded sex appeal without looking vulgar. I was particularly interested in a layered halter dress in seersucker. Who would have thought of creating such a fabulous dress in a fabric more suitable for men?   

photos by Phil Kogan 

On the last night I met Meena Tharmaratnam, president of Ibhana, a boutique catering to women with a sophisticated taste. Meena may not be as young as the other designers, but she sure has a spirit as young as them. She was ubiquitous. One night she showed a batch of silk coats, then on Friday she carefully selected a couple of sensuous silk and crepe red and burgundy dresses (see below). And finally on the last night she showcased gorgeous LBD's. Meena is always thinking of her customer, "She's 20 to 60 years old, and I carry clothes from sizes 2 to 18". That's a considerable target market. One of my favorites was a laser cut short dress with the arms exposed, perfect for a night out. I always think of a little lack dress can take you from the White House to The Park at Fourteenth. It's that transitional. She also told me one of the designers she carries in her boutique, Joseph Ribkoff, constantly dresses Miss America. A suiting fit for a tasteful boutique. 

I would also like to mention Philissa Williams from Thembe (eclectic assorted draped dresses with a nod to the Middle East). The fabulous Carolyn Thomas from The C.A.T Walk boutique, Meagan Kurtz from ADMK (amazing jewelry designer), Tamara Lee from Hush Boutique, Elizabeth St. John (organic wedding gowns) Nate Leon,David Perry and Marques Davis for their relentless work backstage. Last but not least, every single model who worked the runway every night. As Karl Lagerfeld once said, "models give a face to fashion".

At the end of the night, to the beat of DJ Neekola, every model, producers, some retailers and designers (and even me) took over the runway and danced the night away. It was a celebration of a culminating week-long laden with hard work, dedication and most importantly passion. Frankly, I've never had so much fun at a fashion show before. All was missing were a few "innocent" drinks. Finally, the dates are already set for next year, February 7 - February 12 (if they let me host at least one night, rest assured, it's going to be a complete fashion utopia). 

All pictures by Mud Productions. 


Crystal Couture VIP/Media Preview

Weeks shy of the event I received about four or five invites containing a picturesque flyer on my inbox, by the third one, I had to rsvp. Crystal Couture is a convention-like event, celebrating fashion derived from DC, Maryland and Virginia, all possible by Crystal City Business Improvement District (BID). Given the fact that I had the opportunity to attend the two previous times, I wanted to experience it for a third one. This time the event was held at Crystal City shops in Arlington, Virginia. Once there, an image of an labyrinthine underground, mini mall with a variety of shops would come to mind. Just a few steps from the train, Crystal Couture VIP/Media Preview was held in a spacious, seemingly never ending room at first glance. I, along with my buddy Matt, checked in at the entrance, gave the name of my blog, and bing! I was in. I was determined to work the room. 

There was a long, black catwalk sprawled in the middle of it all, brightly illuminated by reflectors affixed to the ceiling, which was relatively low. Lighting is such a big part to any fashion related event to enable the press and buyers to see what's being presented. Also, there were vendors all of kinds, surrounding the runway. I wended backstage and found my fashion mother, Maggy Francois, producer of the show, assisting models getting dressed to hit the runway. As I walk around I saw,  Natalia Sanz, one of my fav designers here, furbishing her booth-like section with garbs of her upcoming collection. Before I even saw Natalia I noticed this shiny cropped jacket hanging on a rack, it had a nod to the 80's, but relatively modern for today. If that was a sign of things to come, I can't wait to witness what she's going to astonish us with this week. Not too far from Natalia, I met Etna Cavalcante, native from Brazil and owner of Toucan Boutique (She was on Vogue Brasil, enough said). While I was shuffling through the clothes, I found a gun-metal denim jacket for men, and a slew of lithe dresses and tops that would be a great addition to any girl's wardrobe for the upcoming summer. 

Right after I finished my brief conversation with Etna, my friend Nick Fulcher tapped me on my shoulder. He, along with three others, are unveiling their brand new line dubbed Capital Vices on Feb 1st. He showed me a sample he was wearing after the show, the tee was intriguing, to say the least. I'll drop more info after I see the whole collection. The jury is still out. Then, a clutch of models came out in tandem wearing a design from each representing designer and boutique participating in Crystal Couture. One of the standout dresses was a bright yellow silk charmeuse strapless gown by Tashia Senn. It was stunning on its own (see above), powered even more by the slim frame of her asian model, who by the way, are sooo in (see Givenchy new Haute Couture collection, Yes Ricardo). Another one that caught my eye was a spaghetti strap gown with a tiger's face on the front and a raccoon tail added on the train by Marcella Somuah, owner of Consignment Diva (she later told me the dress was by Roberto Cavalli). The dress was nonchalantly, yet gracefully worn by America's Next Top Model former contestant Bianca Chardei (see below). 


Kim Truong's dress was fabulous in its all dark decadence. You can't see it in the picture, but she used five different laces. I noticed while her model was posing atop a cube pedestal, the light revealed a lace with a dot print, and an overlay with a rose print. It sort of added another dimension to the dress, making it even more intriguing. Please, check out Kim's work here. One of the most talented people I know.  

Sam Mintah's strapless jersey dress was simple, fun and wearable. The almost microscopic lines wrapping the model's petite body came in shades of purple, grey, pink and black. The sensible frills on the front added for a much appealing, slimming appeal. 

Jasmine (on left) was one of my favs of the night. Her lengthy physique and charming looks, and fresh personality would be compatible to any young designer. I foresee big things coming her way in the near future

Natalia Sanz, one of few designers I respect, is also part of the whole shebang. Here she is with her model Nadia in a simple red shift. She's presenting her collection Thursday 3rd, Friday 4th and Saturday 5th. 

An intricate work of lace on a strapless column was one of the few eye feasts on the entire night

Carlos Reaves, self titled "the architect of fashion", gave us a small taste of what he's going to show Friday, February 4th. A one-sleeve shift with a bow on one shoulder and a belt with reflecting mirrors left plenty yearning for more. You may remember him from this post

The day after the preview I met Joe Maluso, president of Brand Of The Free, a line of environment friendly tees with a penchant for American iconography. The tongue-in-cheek model above dubbed "DC Delicious" features The Capitol dome building atop an ice cream cone, and The Washington Monument as a popsicle. If there is something more American than that. I don't know what it is. 

The same night I met model Roxanne Wright, a native from New York, that received news from the model casting call through a friend. I was enthralled with her accent. Lovely character. 

The jacket alone would make for amazing pictures, very Givenchy from two seasons ago. 

All photos exclusively for DELASTYLE by Matt Statler