SPRINGFIELD — The debut of Springfield’s Fashion Week more than lived up to the hype.
There it all was: The glitz, the glamour, the outrageous and the bizarre, all strolling down a catwalk set up at some of the city’s most infamous landmarks.
The anticipation was over. As I sat in my own most creative ensemble, along came the trends featuring cutouts, vibrant colors, bold prints, Sesame Street-inspired blazers and luxurious duffle bags.
Fashion Week enabled nearly two dozen local label and fashion brand designers to strut their stuff in two large runway events. There was something for everyone’s level of expertise, and fashion palette.
What I expected. What I saw
I expected to see everything go a little crazy, as at high-profile fashion week events across the globe. I expected participants to overwork my eyes, with over-the-top, blinged out garments built for the Gods.
I learned the difference between a fashion designer brand (more exclusive and expensive pieces) and a label designer brand (mass produced at a lower price point.
Growing up, I did not always appreciate the craftsmanship of a local aspiring fashion designer. Yes, one in particular: My mom.
My personal tailor tirelessly laced my sisters and me in custom-fitting materials, fashioned in what she thought was the latest in New York City style. My ADHD and ego would get the best of me, as my mom instructed me to be as still as a statue, while she measured and cut fabric in the shape of a new Vogue or Simplicity pattern.
My face would tell it all, as mommy placed dozens of straight pins on pieces of fabric onto the night clothes I was wearing.
She would pick up the can of Niagara starch and slowly spray and steam each piece of the pattern and say, “I’m ahead of my time, you know.”
For years I lived with a strong dislike about her choice to make my clothes, instead of rack shopping like other parents.
In the late 80′s and early 90s, I only dreamed of rocking a $300 Chanel like I imagined Jasmin Guy’s bourgeoisie character, Whitley Gilbert, wore on, “A Different World.”
Karl Kani, FUBU, Cross Colors, Guess and Calvin Klein were the brands sought after by the cool kids. Cool kids, I thought, did not include my siblings and me.
In my senior year in high school, I got used to cutting and bleaching old jeans into new-looking shorts. I learned style is not contingent on luxury brands, but rather on the details in its craftmanship.
A classmate named Veronica asked me one day in math if I had made my denim skirt. Before I could try to deny it, she blurted out with delight, not ridicule. She offered compliment after compliment on how carefully crafted the skirt was.
Veronica said she could tell it was handmade because of the detail. The lines were straight, the hems were starched and pressed, and the cut was tailored to fit, she said.
Veronica explained the love that went into making clothes and how she’d rather make clothes to express who she was, instead of rack shopping. She was impressed with my “mom skills.” From then on, so was I.
A co-worker of mine recently came into the newsroom wearing a navy blue dress with daisies and red-dotted accents. First, I thought what a pretty pattern. Then I noticed the perfection of the tailored cut.
While chatting, my eyes inspected the pressed seams and I went back to the days of standing for an hour like a statue while my mother starched, steamed and pinned patterns to my frame.
Bolstering creative economy
Fashion Week’s events included workshops, meet and greets, fashion shows, a photo shoot party, an inaugural fashion night out and more. The events highlighted the local fashion industry. Make no mistake, it’s a real thing.
According to Tiffany Allecia, executive director of the Springfield Creative City Collective, the week stimulated foot traffic in the area.
A few hundred spectators showed up to events downtown, in West Springfield, in Mason Square and at the PROVEN pop-up shop, Allecia said.
Joron Stimage-Norwood, owner of Bartell and Company and curator of events, said Fashion Week brought together several industries.
“The city has put a substantial amount of funding into the arts and culture and this project is a part of that,” Stimage-Norwood said. “I am a fan of and inspired by fashion. This was my first act as the curator of events. My vision is to build with the city … and see what Springfield wants to do with it.”
State Rep. Bud Williams says Fashion Week will elevate the city’s profile.
After surviving the COVID-19 pandemic, label brand designers Tiaonna Pope and Larry Young III said bolstering the creative economy comes just in time.
“We want to get the reaction from the crowd, to see what else people are looking for and what we can improve and grow in,” Young III said.
The owners of Generational Drip said Fashion Week events and shows enabled them to connect with = brands and customers who may have lost touch. “We want to rekindle old relationships that may have gotten lost in the pandemic, more exposure and opportunities to collaborate,” Pope said.
Popup couture runways
Through the years, I have created outfits using pieces my mom made, hand-me-downs from my cousin’s closet, items from Goodwill and whatever bootlegged name brand things my parents would bring back from a bus-chartered New York shopping trip.
Later my parents owned City Updates, a store in the former Baystate West Mall now known as Tower Square.
The name City Updates was selected because my parents believed they’d be the city’s first source of street trends seen in New York. Many afternoons after school I walked to City Updates practicing my Tyra Banks model walk through what is now Tower Square Park.
Fashion shows throughout the week transformed local landmarks like Tower Square Park and Merrimaid Laundry into couture runways for emerging designers and models.
Concept, evening, swim, athletic and streetwear made its way down the catwalk on diverse models in all sizes.
According to Stimage-Norwood, since moving from Chicago, this was the first large-scale fashion event in the city. As a life-long resident of Springfield, I’d have to agree. My parents would have certainly taken advantage of the opportunity.
“Community is everything,” he said. “We don’t always have to go to New York to bring something back.”
A show to remember
At the Fashion in the Park show Aug. 3, designer brands AVADO and Klothes by K collections were all my Fashion Week dreams hoped for.
AVADO’s collection was the crazy I expected to see, despite the lack of crisp hemlines.
The boldness of the flowing men’s tunics, cut-out jeans, glowing jumprope-trimmed pants and cloth-wrapped footed pants stole the show.
Klothes by K featured clean hemlines, but all the corsets and cutouts left me to wonder if I could fit into anything.
Beautiful evening gowns, crocodile textures and cross-shaped tube tops, jean skirts and corsets looked perfect for a night of clubbing.
The label designer known as Digital Boombox Network flaunted lavishly thick, cream-colored collared shirts featuring black and cobalt blue motif and patterns. The DBN collection was practical yet attractive urban wear if you don’t mind giant logos.
Throughout the week, confidence and skill-building workshops were held in the heart of downtown by Sheldon Smith.
Smith, a fashion designer, debuted a collection that included purple-tasseled evening gowns and Fendi-inspired business casual women’s attire. Though his collection that cohesiveness, it overflowed with elegance.
Aspiring designer Charlie Zucker, 16, attends the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School and will be taking costume design this fall. I caught up with Zucker at a workshop hosted by Smith.
“Creating is fun,” Zucker said. “I got into fashion watching my mom.”
Like my own, Zucker’s mom, Janaya Collins, made clothes for her children when they were young and has recently returned to the craft.
“I made most Charlie’s clothes and I have been a plus-size model for a few years now,” Collins said.
Zucker said that while the industry may seem all glitz and glamour, there are obstacles to overcome. “You don’t got to be skinny to do it,” Zucker said.
Stimage-Norwood, received a grant from the Springfield Creative City Collective to facilitate the series of events from Aug 1-5.
It takes a village to raise up a child. According to Stimage-Norwood, Springfield Fashion Week is that little child.
“If people are interested, they should grab the child’s hands, make the connection and get involved,” he said.
Through the years, I watched my mom hand-stitch a face into a commemorative pillow, make curtains, hand-bead wedding and special occasion gowns and custom design a unique set of jockey uniforms.
While raising her kids and running a business full-time, my mom put her passion for sewing to the side, picking it up, on and off, for years.
I can’t help think how an opportunity like Fashion Week would have given my mother a bigger platform to follow her passion and change her life.