Washington has never truly been able to hold its own against the fashion heavyweights of New York, Milan or Paris. While it's widely known as an international cornerstone for political and social events, it's not seen as a fashion mecca capable of drawing the Swedish, Cameroonian or Russian faces that appear at the famous fashion weeks around the globe.
Ean Williams, executive director of DC Fashion Week Inc., is doing everything in his power to change that. In its 12th year of production, DCFW is still young and seeking attention. Slowly but surely, it has begun to attract a crowd of fashion-hungry individuals in the Washington area and beyond.
Naturally, DCFW runs in the regular show cycle; spring and summer designs for the coming year premiere in September, and fall and winter designs premiere in February.
Thus, DCFW just wrapped its 24th semiannual show of fall/winter 2016 designs. It was a sold-out whirlwind of turtlenecked dresses, runway tumbles and stalled shows.
Last Wednesday, while most people in the Maryland area were racing the rain home, fashionistas were stepping out for the opening night, packing into the tight quarters of a ballroom in the Embassy Suites in Northwest Washington. Before and after the show, guests were invited to view the vending tables in the hallway right outside of the ballroom. Among them were various vendors selling handmade leather earrings, cosmetics and men's socks.
The front row of the show featured local royalty: USA National Miss D.C. Preteen Jade Ridout, and her sister, USA National Miss D.C. Junior Teen Vanessa Ridout, were in full glam, ball gowns and crowns included. Other audience members included designers whose work would be featured later in the week.
The show began fashionably late with a performance by four female models from Models Inc. The only line to walk that night was a rather massive collection by Williams himself. His brand, Corjor International, is named for his two eldest sons.
Williams' fall/winter 2016 collection was a bow to the elegant combination of gold, white and black. Among the most memorable looks was a gold caped dress with a funneled neckline. Other showstoppers included a similarly structured dress with a massive black lace trail and matching headpiece, as well as a gold leather coat with fur lapels paired with quilted cream pants and a medallion necklace reminiscent of classic Versace.
The collection featured looks that would fit perfectly on any television show with fairy-tale or fantasy storylines. Funnily enough, Williams claims he got most of his inspiration from binge-watching Game of Thrones. Corjor International was elegant, timeless and worthy of every bit of applause.
Thursday's Fashion Industry Networking Party moved venues at the last minute from the Dirty Martini to The Manor, just a few numbers down the street. In a purple-lit room with booming music, the "NextGen" designs walked the runway, featuring work from students studying fashion at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Howard University and other area universities.
Following the brief show was a chance to network with models, agencies, designers and general creatives. The party went well into the night.
Friday's men's fashion show found its way back to the DoubleTree Crystal City, where the model calls and fittings were held. That night resembled the most "Fashion Week" event of the week yet, with a long red L-shaped runway running through the many rows of sold-out seats.
Kinetic Styles was the first line to walk that night, an expose of the daringly monochromatic combination of red on red on red. Each male model came out donning a red leather snapback with a red pompom placed directly on the top. The remaining parts of the looks featured red fur accents and quilted leather paneling, but the hats really stole the show.
After the first collection walked, Williams, the host of the evening, gave out free Magnum Underwear to audience members. He gave out as many as he wanted; Magnum is his line, after all.
Following this, Magnum Collection made quite the entrance with four male models in shirtless firefighter looks, holding white roses to hand to beautiful audience members. The underwear held no real cohesive design scheme aside from the Magnum name across the beltline in a capitalized gold font reminiscent of the famous Moschino belts.
Then Konjo Collection walked, featuring looks cross-referencing Aladdin and a Middle Eastern bellhop. With massive copper jewelry designed by an additional artist, the silhouettes of the jackets ranged from ordinary to rich appeal.
The designer of The Valdecio Collection designed his collection with the mantra, "It's not clothing; it's art." And art it was. With intricately cut button-downs and Western-style appeal, it was like a step back to early 2000s award-show looks, complete with paisley fabric panels.
Ray Vincente Menswear was the last designer to walk for the night. His designs were by far the most urban, featuring black leather paneling on crew-neck long-sleeved tops. The camouflage-on-camouflage tied in well with the dog tag necklaces, all designed in homage to members of the military.
Naturally, the show followed up with multiple after-parties for the designers, models and industry professionals to find one another and discuss the looks of the night.
Saturday night's Metropolitan Emerging Designers & Indie Artists Showcase was yet another upgrade in venue, taking place in the Liaison Hotel near the other venues of the week. The show focused on designers trying to break through the final barriers of publicity for their brands.
It began with Jeilyné Santana, who walked orchid-inspired looks. Designs included black bodysuits with leaf embellishments on the belts and beaded floral accents. There was a heavy emphasis on black and gold. A model fell out of her sky-high heels at the end of the catwalk, but the beautiful Italian lace made up for the slip.
Vibrant Middle Eastern colors were present in Jé Michele's first few looks, with a combination of bright orange and a deep navy on silk and cottony fabrics. White fur was an ideal additional texture. The stars of her show, however, included an all-white silk suit and a white caped peacoat echoing the 1930s. Most looks walked with intricately cut black lace tights, a trend that found its way to many runways this season.
The bold nature of the line comes from the bold nature of the designer, who designs and clothes herself under the motto, "If you want to wear it, rock it."
Aalpha Pink triumphed on the runway like Jeremy Scott's little sister. Featuring bright pink patchwork, tangy yellow Doc Martens and raw-cut shirts and pants, it felt as though the elementary school looks we all used to rock finally grew up. Every look was overtly accessorized with fur earrings and floral baseball caps. The designer is also a painter and used acrylic painting techniques and small hand-sewn detailing to incorporate her history in the arts.
Hoodlvm clothing was another star of the evening, walking quilted leather paneling, safety belts as embellishments and massive fur coats and backpacks. The ready-to-wear looks were as edgy as they get, including a quilted vest resembling a police uniform.
The University of Maryland's Brittany McCoy, a senior marketing and supply chain management major, walked her "Christina" collection, featuring black-and-white gridded two-piece sets, heavily beaded shorts and a camel-and-black leather coat that elicited "I want that" from audience members. It was one of the best-received collections of the night.
The week's finale took place Sunday evening in the echoing marbleized halls of Carnegie Library. The second half of the evening was hosted by America's Next Top Model All-Star cast member Bianca Golden, who donned one of the Corjor International designs that showed later that evening for the second time in DCFW.
After a long model walk featuring all of the models of the week, Styles by Hakeemah was the first to grace the runway. Vibrancy was the focus of the modest wear range, demonstrating that anyone can look lavish in draped silhouettes and maxi-length skirts made of sari silk. In the context of Middle Eastern culture, the long paneled skirts over pants combined with florally beaded headscarves were lovely. No dress was like another, featuring colors from deep eggplant to molten brown paired with massive collarless jackets.
Sera Vero Nik was another champion of the evening, beginning with a male model walking in all black, save a massive orange, blue and gold coat with fabric that resembled quilted China-plate etchings and a soft tan fur collar. Other looks included a cranberry and gold two-piece set that looked as though it had stepped right out of a Versace advertisement. The names of Washington Metro lines inspired the colors of the collection, adding to its essential inclusion in DCFW.
Lady Mariama Designs was so classic it felt like stepping into a 1920s Parisian storybook. With a line of earthy tones, medallion-tasseled necklaces and bat-wing sleeves, it was another nod to ultra-chic modesty.
Unique Pattern for You gave off major Dolce & Gabbana vibes with its barefoot models baring flower baskets and floral crowns with floral-print maxi skirts and tube top pairings.
The last line of the night was by a guest international designer from Serbia, Bata Spasojevic, whose pieces featured Givenchy-style graphics and layers of black textures.
After Sunday's finale, DC Fashion Week stands to argue opulence is on the rise this coming fall and winter in the shape of gaudy gold jewelry, trained dress and reinvented businesswear.
Those are the newest trends until next September brings another round of Metro delays, shoe changes and runway struts.