NEW YORK, Oct 29, 2009 / FW/ — A rainy, Thursday night brings fashion’s elite, to the historic Harlem Gatehouse on 135 Convent Ave, for Harlem Fashion Row. In the company of fashion icons like Mickel Angela Davis, Amanda Lepore, and guest of honor Stephen Burrows, designers like Lialia, Dinna Soliman, Jose Duran and Epperson, set the stage for a night of high fashion in Harlem.
Harlem Fashion Row is the brainchild of Brandice Henderson. Her aim is to create a global platform for up and coming designers from the Harlem community. With the efforts of the creative team, headed by Creative Director Randal Jacobs, Harlem Fashion Row was more than a fashion show, but rather a statement. High fashion has no zip code! Experience, faith and a love for fashion put this show together and to see it all happen, was an experience not to be forgotten.
Lialia, the collection presented by sister designers Julia and Natalie Alacorn opened the show. The first yellow shift dress with green lace overlay, gave me an instant flash of First Lady, Michelle Obama on Inauguration day.
The dress was elegant, but had enough detail to bring the classic shift to present day. It was not a surprise to read the sisters worked at Oscar de la Renta’s design house, in addition to their Parson’s education.
The collection continued with more classic yet chic, tailored looks that exuded everyday elegance. Even the use of metallic fabric was elegant. Silver metallic was used as inset pleating, adding breadth to dresses.
For bolder looks, full metallic pieces seemed to radiate off the runway. The last look was a metallic black, deep v neck jumpsuit. Not only was it my favorite piece from the collection, it brought the all too common high fashion moment of the evening as the model almost tumbled into the Grand Piano.
As I glanced over to see Amanda Lepore’s reaction, I smiled and realized Harlem Fashion Row truly brought high fashion to Harlem. It was a wonderful feeling and a great start to the show.
Dinna Soliman’s collection was a unique mix of sexy, functional and comfortable fashion. The clean fabrics used made her pieces ideal for the girl who likes simple, great looking fashion. The deep neck lines, shoulder baring dresses and padded knee leggings added an element of sexy.
Pockets were a serious detail that made the collection very functional and unique. I especially appreciated the self fabric, wrap tie pouchette, which made the cream shift dress a perfect piece for the lady on the go. The shoes used were also a special highlight. The red glittered oxfords, made the viewer want to click their heels with joy.
While backstage I observed two of Jose Duran’s models prepare by a joint listen to Notorious B.I.G. It seemed to help them get through the frequent dousing of baby powder. Once the models hit the runway, a different scene was set.
Jose Duran’s vision as a designer is inspired by a massacre that occurred in his home town in Haiti. Learning this detail, gave greater meaning to the work of the designer. A stand out piece from the collection was a dangerously low, one shouldered, harem pant jumper.
The model looked more like a warrior who had been stripped of everything, but was still regal. The sound of Nina Simone’s haunting voice and bass from See Line Women enhanced the collection full of raw edges, deconstructed utility shirts, leggings and combat boots. Braided crowns and splattered faces, under draped tattered hoods created an invasion of warriors.
Jose Duran’s collection was an avant-garde experience of warriors who have stories to tell. Stories that is full of struggle and pain.
One of the first things that stood out to me about the Project Runway Alum, was the mantra to he repeated to models; “Forget about fashion, you’re a beautiful woman in a beautiful dress.” How perfect for a designer to say?
Epperson’s designs reflect his idea that the person should “be who they are.” The stark white, deconstructed woven tops paired with tight black leggings, accentuated the natural beauty for the wearer.
White tops were followed by black and white geometric harem pants, simply paired with black blazers and ruffled scarves. Skirted men with rough ruffled sashes and combat boots, showcased items from Epperson’s collection for men.
Ruffles and raw edges were key elements used throughout the collection. I was immediately captivated by the patchwork kente cloth tank dress, with the marvelous sweep and asymmetrical hem. The second African inspired dress was a halter dress with a raw edge ruffled neckline that highlighted the wearer’s face and beauty.
The show ended with a special mini documentary about the legendary designer Stephen Burrows. While listening to all of his accomplishments and how he continues to inspire so many in fashion, I was overwhelmed by what had taken place.
If it wasn’t for the efforts of Stephen Burrows and other pioneers of color in fashion, events like Harlem Fashion Row would never happen. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. It is up to us to continue to lay the foundation for those to come. Harlem Fashion Row is opening doors for future designers. The cycle of giving back reaches further into the community, with proceeds from HFR going to The Brotherhood Sister-Sol, a community based youth mentoring program.
Harlem Fashion Row was a new beginning. It was a barrier breaking experience that broke the mold of where high fashion lives. Fresh, new, exciting fashion was presented throughout the evening at Harlem Fashion Row. Sitting under the ambient lighting at the Harlem Gatehouse, among fashion’s elite, I felt the start of a movement. Harlem Fashion Row took a giant leap in redefining fashion. Next year is already here.
Photos by EDWARD COLELLI