Richmond on the Runway 

RVA Fashion Week changes the city as well as the clothes.

click to enlarge With a packed schedule of events such as the pictured Uncrated/Recreated, the annual RVA Fashion Week is changing the look of the city. - ALEXANDER CHANG
  • Alexander Chang
  • With a packed schedule of events such as the pictured Uncrated/Recreated, the annual RVA Fashion Week is changing the look of the city.

Richmond Fashion Week returned this year with shows that featured models strutting with three-legged Chihuahuas and posing with jewelry. It even featured a catwalk for kids. These and other fashion events brought attention to Richmond's cultural diversity, and displayed the city's potential as a landmark location for designers and models.

"The difference between New York fashion week and RVA fashion week is that New York features mostly well-known designers," says Lindsay Ess, the week's fashion coordinator. "They don't use New York as an influence, whereas in Richmond, we really want to put Richmond people, designers, and local artists on the map. It's about giving back to Richmond and making it evolve rather than having it stagnant and having people move to those larger cities."

The third annual installment, spearheaded by Nightlife Promos, showcased more than 80 models, nearly a dozen local designers and many retailers. The project was started in 2009 by Jason Michael Primrose, Kearsten Feggans and a staff of five, financing the shows out of their pockets. It has now evolved into a core production team of 16 and sponsorships from the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Verizon Wireless, and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Though the fashion week has gained national attention and support, the shows have remained intimate and Richmond-centric, held in locations such as CenterStage, Shockoe's Wine Loft, and Rocketts Landing near Church Hill. "The reason we do multiple locations throughout the city is to utilize every aspect and quaint field that Richmond has," says Joey McCullough, Co-owner of the promotion company and the week's director. "So it's not just your traditional lights, glamour shots and runway show. It's to showcase the local aspect, not only in fashion but also architecture and venues as well."

Many events were unconventional. The Uncrated/Recreated fashion show at Studio 8 featured models walking down the runway with adopted dogs saved by the Richmond Animal League. The show displayed models in animal-inspired face masks and deconstruction-reconstruction garments made by designers using eco-friendly thrift and vintage-store clothing. Canines such as Gracie, a pit bull once owned by Michael Vick, was part of the spectacle, strutting her paws.

The competitive nature of the fashion world was also in the spotlight. At the Byrd Theatre, attendees of the Red Carpet Film Premiere watched short films by Richmond videographers that asked: "What is fashion?" Presented by Saks Fifth Avenue, winners of the competition won cash prizes and publicity.

Another competition was the Runway at CenterStage where audience members voted along with modeling agencies for which model worked the stage best. The models who won top slots were offered the opportunity to be signed to Liquid Talent Agency (Richmond), Kim Alley Models (New York), and a free style model shoot by RVA Fashion Week staff. The traditional runway show featured clothing from retailers such as South Moon Under and Dillard's and — to add a little clash and edge — positioned models to face off against each other at opposite sides of the runway before exiting.

For fashion appreciation, the audience at the Wine Loft received a close look at jewelry provided by local retailers such as Schwarzschild Jewelers while enjoying accented lighting and a glass of merlot. Models walked in formal wear provided by Mila Bridal and guests were able to meet and converse with them in an intimate environment. The intention of the Uncorked show was to illustrate that jewelry is a fashion item just as important as evening gowns. Susan Morgan, public relations director of Schwarzschild, said that it was rare to find residents conscious of fashion issues like these in the past.

"Richmond is progressively getting stylish," Morgan said. "When I first came to Richmond from New York City, everyone was very conservative and everyone was dressed alike. Nobody wore any jewelry and they weren't adventurist. Richmond has grown a lot in the last 20 years."

And this perception is growing. Richmond has been traditionally judged by residents and outsiders by its Civil War monuments and its historical landmarks. With a new Tumblr office opened in Old Manchester, and Virginia Commonwealth University making it to the Final Four, Richmond is changing from a one-dimensional city into a multicultural existence. RVA Fashion Week is one of the important events that brings a different kind of attention, according to Britt Sebastian, a designer for RVA Fashion Week.

"It's basically putting Richmond on the map," Sebastian says. "Every city seems to have a fashion week and it's a good measurement of how fashionable or fashion conscious that city is. Few years ago when RVA Fashion Week was new and nobody knew about it, Richmond wasn't on the map at all in the fashion world and now we're getting looked at by much larger cities." S

For information, go to rvafashionweek.com.

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