Philadelphia Fashion Week 2009
Let me just preface this by saying that I was a volunteer for Philadelphia Fashion Week (read: I was there for seven hours on Friday, October 9th—and on my cranky feet the whole time too, might I add), so it is highly possible that what I witnessed and how I witnessed it might differ a bit from the “average” attendee of the event. However, that being said, I was also able to observe all the goings-on from the inside out… and from all sorts of other (sometimes slightly painful) angles. You have been forewarned. Let’s do this.
In general, I think the show put forth last week was a valiant first effort. I love Philadelphia and although I am not a Philly native, I am the first to laude this beautiful city and the very first rush to its defense (believe it or not, people still think that it’s got nothing more to offer other than Rocky Balboa and cheese steaks. Wake up, people: that’s like fifteenyearsago.com). Philadelphia, often times attempting to wade its way out of New York City’s shadow, boasts a bounty of cultural goodies, including incredible choices of food, art, music, and yes, fashion. It’s only natural that Philadelphia fall into the creation of its very own Fashion Week.
Now, was PFW anywhere near the scale of a NYC Fashion Week production? Of course not. That would be rather impossible at this stage. Okay, was it a flimsy floozy snipped and clipped together by faux fashionista posers? No, it wasn’t that either. It was… somewhere in between. In all honesty, PFW will still probably be trying to find its footing for a few years to come. But neither the organizers nor the promoters should be particularly faulted for this. Considering the money, manpower and cultural clout necessary to pull off a full-scale fashion week, the gang did… a relatively solid job, I would say.
However, do I have a few grievances and grumbles?
♥ You bet your sweet life I do. ♥
Let’s start from the beginning. Now, again, I can only reference first-hand the specific happenings of Friday, October 9th, but from what I hear, Thursday’s show didn’t pack an overly-powerful punch, mostly because attendance was a bit on the low side, because well, it was a Thursday and people have jobs. Again: this isn’t NYC: we don’t get everyone in the fashion industry rushing in from the four corners of the world. We just don’t. But from what I heard, the actual shows went off without a hitch, especially for a first-day Fashion Week debut. Thursday included creations by the students of Moore College of Art and Design (woot!) and collections by Brooklyn Royalty, Wrath Arcane, Love Brigade,Kill City, Palmieri Jeans, and Delicious, the last two being the sole Philly-based brands of the bunch; emcee David Evangelista was on hand to kick it all off (but was nowhere to be seen Friday and Saturday).
As Friday’s show launched, the doors crept open right 4:00 as Radiohead’s Everything in Its Right Place oozed out of the event’s massive speakers. À propos, and clever, I thought. The 23rd Street Armory, which housed the three-day event, was perhaps a bittersweet choice of venue. The building was certainly large enough to accommodate the event and its historical and local relevance certainly made it an interesting, and in my opinion, appropriate choice. However, what you gain with historical clout, you lose in practicality. Attendees soon came to realize that there were indeed no bathrooms on-site and were forced to use portable toilets (yes: the dreaded portapottis, ya’ll) stationed just outside of the event…in an alleyway. Not exactly what Philadelphia fashionistas had in mind, but okayyyy. Okay. I get it. There were no bathrooms in this beautiful, historical building suitable to accommodate hundreds of people–what were they supposed to do? Sigh, I don’t know. But when I think portapottis, “Philadelphia chic!” isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind. Tailgating at Eagles games is more like it. Philadelphia Fashion Week (Bright Lights, Big City!), not so much.
Then we have the runway which was in a sort of diamond shape. Cool? Yes. Original? YES! Problematic? Yes. The catwalk’s unusual shape created an empty space literally inside the parameter of the runway where seating was also available (to VIPs only, of course). An interesting idea perhaps in theory, but what ended up happening was people (VIPS included) either, 1. Didn’t know if they were “allowed” to sit there (that was the number one question of the night), 2. Didn’t know how to go about sitting there (there were hidden steps on one side of the runway giving access to the inside of the diamond), 3. Didn’t want to sit there, as that would place them literally smack dab in the middle of everyone’s gaze, a veritable bull’s-eye for all photos taken throughout the entire show. Therefore, sadly, media photos of the runway (during and between the actual shows) often times depict what appears to be half-empty seating for an event which, for the most part, was pretty full. Ooops. And while I’m on this train, I have to say too that I think the runway was too small and too low. Isn’t there something to be said for theatricality? Perhaps the promoters had their reasons, but at first glance the runway was sort of an anti-climax, tucked away in the back of the venue and seemingly, well, short–not really that much taller than the seated spectators. The armory is quite large and upon entrance, the runway (barely in sight) didn’t even appear to be the focalpoint of the event (frankly, the bar was more noticeable–and better placed). But all criticism aside, the venue was unique and appropriate, and the boutiques placed around its perimeter were fun to peruse, showcasing a pleasantly varied array of Philadelphia-made treasures by: Christina V., Danielle Tobin, I Pearl, K. Louise Designs, Mesa Enterprises, Marina Makaron Moscow, S. Love, Sandra Baquero, Traci Lynn Fashion Jewelry, Matthew Izzo Lifestyle & Home, House of Mohr, and Duke & Winston.
Unfortunately, I have to point out that with the welcome presence of the boutiques also comes a loss of focus. Sometimes it seemed as if guests were more preoccupied with buying jewelry than concentrating on the fashion at-hand. BUT. It’s a damn good thing these boutiques were around, as the time in between runway shows often verged on… downright agonizing. Now, there is indeed a reason for this. YES, it disrupts the flow of the show, YES, it tends to throw event-goers off kilter, but when you use the same models for all shows of the day, there’s not much else to do but hope guests might busy themselves shopping while models race to completely change clothes, makeup, and demeanor in order to accommodate the next designer’s aesthetic. I must say, PFW gets major fashion cred for employing Wilhelmina models, but again, since these models were used by every the designer, optimal time crunching became an issue. I can’t even begin to imagine the hustle that must have been going on backstage. I can’t even IMAGINE. As a result of all this, I can’t tell you how many confused (and borderline bored) people, especially toward the end of the event, approached me puzzled, inquiring if the show was over (um, no?) or if something was wrong, or if they had missed the last show, etc. etc. The lack of programs (WTF?) didn’t help either. Wilhelmina models are all good and well, but I think most of us would take some local leggy gal’s strut over ridiculous lag times. While passing the time between show(s), event-goers–including VIPs–nommed on food which consisted of…sliders and pretzels (oh, and a cheese tray). Sorry, veg-heads—maybe next time.
But! Props must be given where props are due, i.e. for the following: before and between shows, local artists were given the chance to show off their talent by painting the two walls on either side of the entrance to the runway, all which gave off a sort of urban vibe—very clever and quite relevant considering the night’s focus on street wear fashions. This also served as a way to entertain somewhat restless guests (when they were not sitting through live performances by DJ Mr.Sonny James, The Model, DJ Bonics, DJ Phsh and perhaps the most impressive act of the night, Philly’s own, Tu Phace). PFW also gets major props for its choices of aforesaid DJs, the majority of which are Philadelphia natives; they all did an admirable job injecting a constant pulse into the party, and their incredible handiwork was clearly appreciated by all. The music, generally speaking (and I consider myself to be somewhat of a music snob), was actually pretty good, and that includes the tunes selected by designers themselves: Radiohead, MIA, etc. Loved (most of) it.
So let’s get to the bottom line: the fashion. Friday’s lineup kicked off with student designs from Philadelphia University. Which were… stunning! Really, I was quite impressed. Save a very few missteps, the students really did give the professionals a run for their money, putting forth some of the most colorful, bold, inspired looks of the night. Bravo, PU—bravo.
My other favorites of the night were by far GAR-DE and S. LOVE. Honestly, I can’t even vividly remember the others shows and I think that speaks to how fabulous these two really were. GAR-DE’s chic color choices were right on point, as was its expert craftsmanship, putting forth rather androgynous garments that were at the same time smartly chic (amazing tailoring), and fashion-forward. I need to figure out how to attain one of their beautiful leather jackets (win the lottery, perhaps?). I believe this off-white crop was also on display at Matthew Izzo’s boutique. HMMMM.
The label is a New York design collective whose goal is to succeed in taking high-quality materials and infuse them with cutting-edge design. Who can’t stand behind that? I will attest they live up to this philosophy.
Now let’s move onto my absolute favorite of the night, S.LOVE (pssst! You can buy it ONLINE!)–by far the showstopper, partly in thanks to its phenomenal goth-meets-hipster-girl-fun-with-paint video intro extravaganza. LOVED IT. I guess I was just grateful for the sheer theatricality of this show which truly succeeded in communicating its aesthetic to spectators. Unfortunately, I was so into the show that I completely forgot to take any pictures! Wow. Amazing.
I think one of the things the audience was most abuzz about, fashion-wise, was S.LOVE’s INSANE footwear, perhaps channeling a bit of Olivier Thysken’s inspiration for his final collection as Artistic Director at Nina Ricci, last March.
The tail-end of the show did pick up with more enthusiasm (all long pauses aside) as the fashion itself became more exciting. And isn’t that what it’s all about in the end? Exciting fashion? I would hope so. PFW: perhaps there are a few things you have to learn from when planning next year’s affair, but we cannot deny that with the mere creation of this fashion experience, you made our Philly chests puff out in pride.
I am sure, without a doubt, that this is an event that will only grow in size and influence throughout the coming years. For a city mocked (but also beloved!) for its hard edge and affinity for fake cheese product, Philadelphia Fashion Week rises like a beacon of hope for Philly fashionistas who are paying constant witness to an amazing city continuously rising in the ranks of fashion. It is only a matter of time before PFW finds its niche, and as with any ascension to the top, growing pains are (unfortunately) not optional.
Philadelphia, I love you. Fashion, you too. I was thrilled to stand as a witness to your blessed, official union.
Here’s to your lifetime of happiness together. Hear, hear!