Can a normal, kinda broke girl rub elbows with the fabulous at a fashion show in DC? She sure as hell can. Here’s how I rocked it.
So, I finally got sick and tired of seeing my friend Eugene’s awesome runway pics on Facebook but not knowing how in the world he was doing it. So, I put on my bubble-gum mint wig and bright teal NY&CO coat, then went to see one of these epic black DC fashion shows for myself. Turns out, I arrived just in time for the spectacular finale of DC’s Indie Fashion Week (Feb. 29-March 6, 2016), the “Indie 500” fashion show.
Over the years, my friend Eugene has given me excellent fashion advice, recounted meeting Lynda Carter, once Wonder Woman at the high tone shoe boutique he works for (they once tricked out a pair of couture pumps with rhinestones and a Hello Kitty homage, then painted the bottom of the shoe hot red), and he told incredible stories of carefully dressing up models only to strip them bare and start the dress-up process all over again while backstage between sets at DC fashion shows. Eugene loves the industry, so he always goes to pitch in along with a team of other fashion-minded volunteers. I always imagined them standing together in their best jackets, slick hats and designer fittings, synchronized in their way and spinning the poor girl around, weave ponytail whipping and all—to go from nekkid to knockout in moments, not unlike a NASCAR pitcrew.
Wish I had one of those.
The Black Fashion Scene in DC is Like… Woah.
So, for years I got this sense there was an underground black fashion world in DC that I was missing out on, and made a vow not to miss the next fashion show Eugene spammed Facebook about. This time, it was the Indie 500 Part Deux (Finale Runway Show).
None of my girlfriends could make it to the “Indie 500” on a Sunday night, so I chose to treat myself to VIP tickets (a good deal at only $32) if I was going to fly solo. But even then, I found ways to be nervous about all kinds of silly things beforehand. I kept telling myself, ‘What if I mess up the red carpet pic when I walk in? Do I absolutely have to wear my best disco ball Betsey Johnson shoes with the turquoise soles to fit in? Those hurt!’ And oh my goodness, I am a worrier, so it just went on and on…
In the end, I was running so late that I had to cab it over to the beyond-elegant Sax Lounge on 11th and H Street. So, the terrifying red carpet moment that I imagined stumbling through and breaking all my legs on in super-tall platform stilettoes didn’t even happen. I really should not have worried about it all. And, more importantly, they’d created an incredible artistic space inside of Sax Lounge.
If you’ve never been (and despite being a DC native, I never have), Sax Lounge is a palace. I adored the red and golden designs on the columns and ceilings which reminded me of the luxe furnishings of renaissance-era royal bedrooms I’ve in European museums. The DJ was nested up in a luxurious gothic-style balcony painted gold. I thought I’d died and gone to fashion heaven. And then the energy of the people more than matched all that brave elegance. All of this was created by the multicultural 2016 Indie Fashion Week team.
The Power of a Great Wig
So the first lesson I learned that night was thus: Never underestimate the power of a good wig.
I tell you this because many people that night assumed I was part of the fashion industry just because of the way I was dressed. (And I only went so far because I was nervous!) The woman at the front saw me when I came in and flashed my VIP ticket. She asked if I was with the press, partly, I think, because of the creative getup. Then, when they escorted me upstairs, a photographer stopped me the minute I made it up the last step and asked me to pose for a picture.
Later, Mollie Q. Coleman, clearly a brilliantly successful entrepreneur and “Head of Spreading the Hemp Butter Love” at gethempbutter.com assumed I was involved with the fashion industry when we started up a nice conversation. And so did a makeup artist from Aveda in Chinatown (Aliyah was so lovely and knowledgeable I am determined to become one of her regulars… once I get paid again, haha!), and so did a nice couple who had come to support their friend, the designer for Moxy Studio (think fabulous Diana Ross style gowns right in mode with the trends of today). By the way, I let everyone know I was just a fashion fangirl, but having a Jem-Jerricka alternate personality for parts of the night was such great fun.
And before the show even began, Harley Morgan, the guy in charge of the whole fashion show and head of Righteous Ones Entertainment Agency (also see his empowering video on The Scene DMV blog), came up to me with the event host Desmond J. Handon, CEO and creative director of EthniCITY, and asked me to save nearby reserved seats for their friends. At the time, I had no idea what was going on or why this slender, cool-looking guy standing next to him holding a LEGO® briefcase (which was epic, by the way), leaned in to give me a very fashionable kiss on the cheek. (Inside, I was banishing the instinct to react the way a woman normally reacts to an unsolicited kiss at a club.) But then I smiled neatly, agreed and went with the flow. Moments later, I joked about it to the woman sitting next to me, a mother of one of the models, and she explained who Harley Morgan was and I freaked out (well, Morgan and Handon were quite far out of earshot, so it was now safe for me to freak out.)
Lesson #2: Always accept kisses gracefully in the fashion world. Especially if you are wearing an awesome wig.
Everyone I met that night saw in me some sort of clever fashion guru, though what I really am is a novice fashionista who has made wearing brightly colored wigs and her favorite styles a way of life. For me, to be yourself, however you are, is the most important thing in life. Or, maybe it’s just that I never want to be told I can’t wear my fiery mint wig if I want to. Eh, whichever.
So what did I end up wearing? I indulged a craving for teal and tried not to get too carried away, though I think I did anyway. And then, I cooled everything down with white leather shoes and a matching purse. If you ever want to try the same look, it was a lot easier than you think. Seriously. And it was soooo much fun. Check my shopping list! (Though, technically, I didn’t have to go shopping for any of this stuff. I pulled together a few odds and ends from my closet.)
Meanwhile, as I explained, I was nervous and wondering what I should even do at a fashion show besides watch the models.
Oh, and let me tell you about the models!
Modeling Above the Bar
There was what you call, an ‘infinity’ stage above the bar at Sax Lounge. At first, I thought it was just a slightly tacky huge mirror draped with cloth and strings of glass beads. Something was definitely up with that mirror—I’d seen two-way mirrors on crime TV shows, but I assumed there wouldn’t be much point to something like that at a fashion show, since the goal is to be seen.
Then, the lights in the red-and-gold-palace went down. The huge mirrors began to glow, and finally, they cleared. The mirrors became windows into another world filled with an infinity of poles, more draped satin, hanging beads and beautiful models multiplied the moment they stepped inside the space. There was an audible gasp of excitement and disbelief in the club when the lights came down and the stage lit up.
As a woman of color, I was definitely empowered seeing so many black designers and their wonderful, eclectic tastes. The models were tall, thin, curvy, plus-sized, short; whatever you consider yourself to be, that body type was represented. I even saw myself, a mixture of curvy, short, dark-skinned, petite with natural hair and a bewildered look that constantly says ‘is it okay I’m missing the final episode of Downton Abbey for this?’ I know, right? Kind of a weird coincidence!
The Ebullient Designers
Everyone was, as Jem says, ‘truly outrageous,’ but let me tell you about the local designers that stood out for me.
- Aleka Demorris Studios featured models in easy, flyaway earth tones up on the infinity stage, slinking around the shining poles, looking glad and imperious. Translation for your average fashionista: I saw some wonderful looks that I think women’s clothing stores like Zara and bebe would snatch up if they ever got the chance, to give you an idea of the style. And there was a two-piece shirt and shorts set that looked like daytime lingerie—almost. The kind of thing I’d fiend to wear on a cute date during the summer and see if I could actually get away with it.
- Moxy Studio had lovely, sparkly Diana Ross-style dresses. I always thought that look was too glam, but I was definitely wrong. This designer shed a new, bedazzling light on big, fancy, fabulous gowns. There was also a brown fur coat draped over a smouldering burnt sienna dress that I adored.
- King O had some very handsome guys strutting in denim and leather. I’d love a man in any of these looks. (I even liked the emceed denim-and-leather song so much that I went home and tried to find it on YouTube. Turns out that, no, it’s not the “Denim and Leather” song by metal band Saxon from 1981. Cool song, though, bro.)
- DJS Lifestyles by Derrick J. Sellers and his high-tone, high-fashion androgynous looks were bold, rebellious. He was clearly changing our notions of what men could and could not wear and I have definitely been won over. The modern dancers up on the infinity stage, men and women, raw, circling one another like predators and straining to forge alliances across gender war lines reminded me of SiA’s “Elastic Heart” music video. And then, Sellers made a great impromptu speech about his start here in Washington, DC, as an aspiring designer who eventually got ‘the call’ and traveled to L.A. Hearing him go out of his way to explain his journey and empower all of us meant a lot.
Can you believe rich culture, fashion, powerful art at this level was just sitting in Washington, DC, on a Sunday night? I was born and raised here and I’m still reeling. In fact, that show gave me the courage to launch this fashion blog at last. I’ve never done this before. I just really love clothes, and I love writing (check the fiction stories on my Randitty blog), and I love empowering people. I especially believe in helping other people of color get to where they need to be, because the power of one kind word is real. I’ve lived it.
And nobody should ever feel ashamed of their body or their personal style. We’ve got to encourage one another, especially here in this city that can sometimes feel so cold and foreign, even to its natives.
So, take a good look at the Indie 500 Fashion Week: DC committee and sponsors. These people are making it, they are so lovely, and obviously, they are the future. I enjoyed meeting a few of these faces, if accidentally, during the night.
Signed, the goofy girl in the mint wig.
- For more black DC and related fashion shows, you should check out Eventbrite.