We know by now that not all of the most trendsetting fashion shows occur right inside of Spring Studios for New York Fashion Week. Creating history in this industry always requires constant innovation and thinking beyond the constraints of a typical runway venue. This past NYFW Fall 2022, I profiled three different fashion shows that stood out in their approach to the choice of venue, execution of show and choice of designers to feature.
Harlem Fashion Row
Despite downpouring rain, Harlem Fashion Row (“HFR”) proved to us that the show must go on and an entire evening lived up to the promise of shining a spotlight on talented Black designers as well as icons in the fashion and entertainment industries during New York Fashion Week. HFR hosted its 15th Anniversary Fashion Show and Style Awards in Harlem at the General Grant National Memorial, the largest mausoleum in all of North America, with the help of their lead sponsor of the event, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (“LVMH”), a global leader in luxury goods.
The star-studded fashion show featured a red carpet appearance featuring A-list invitees such as Ebony Obsidian, Misa Hylton, LAYA, Bevy Smith, April Walker and Ty Hunter. All came to witness the jaw-dropping Spring/Summer 2023 collections from Johnathan Hayden, Nicole Benefield and Clarence Ruth. HFR and LVMH also presented five distinguished guests with the following recognitions – Ade Samuel for Stylist of the Year, Sergio Hudson for Designer of the Year, Robin Givhan for Editor of the Year, Isaa Rae for the newly christened Virgil Abloh Award and Janet Jackson for Icon of the Year.
Shannon Abloh, wife of the late Virgil, came to the stage and announced Issa Rae, the creator of groundbreaking work such Insecure and Rap Sh!t, as the very first recipient of the Virgil Abloh Award. Isaa Rae paid homage to the former director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear and founder of Off-White address the crowd, “When I think about him, I think of pure ingenuity, a path defining confidence. I most appreciate him as a high-fashion doorman, just because of all the doors he opened for others, both intentionally and through his visibility.” Upon ending the acceptance speech, Rae reminded everyone, “I love being the first, but as long as I am still working I vow not to be the last.”
Following the exciting fashion and award show, I caught up with Sergio, who has produced looks for the likes of Michelle Obama and Serena Williams, to speak more about his recent accolade. I asked him how this award affects his legacy and he explained “[It’s] not just my legacy. It’s for the designers as a whole and normalizing us in this place…It is very important that we are supported.” It felt refreshing to hear that Sergio only sees his long term success intertwine with the elevation of those who also look like him in the fashion industry.
Guests eventually made their way to the official after-party hosted at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Harlem legend Cam’ron took the stage and got the crowd dancing with an unforgettable backdrop of Central Park at night. On the way to the festivities, I was also able to introduce myself to designer Nicole Benefield outside of the Rose Theater and she enlightened me on some of the new techniques she incorporated in order to push her own boundaries. She noted, “I played around with metallics this time. I never done that before. I love metallic but I had never done that with my collection before…considering myself a designer who would never do a runway show, I thought what would that look like for myself, just to stretch a little and just play with fabrics that I normally wouldn’t do.” She also described how she collaborated with designer Rodney Patterson on the addition of his signature styled hats to accessorize some of her looks since she was attracted to the contours and shapely visors.
As I neared my way to the bar, Clarence Ruth emerged from the Dizzy Club area and greeted guests who admired his collection that fused together clerical and motorcycle cultures. I eventually made my way towards him and asked if he could elaborate on the color theory behind his collection since I knew he had also written a children’s book Colors De La Runway which helps teach children the colors of the rainbow.
Clarence explained how he wanted to create something beautiful out of two totally different worlds, “I took kind of the clergy priest robes and I merged it with motorcycle elements. So with that, I wanted to speak to the biblical side of things. The red represents the blood.” He further elaborated on how his collection revolved around a Last Supper suit that was adorned with Leonardo’s mural painting and accessorized with a single leather biker glove and gold necklace and grow from the represented colors. Peep my video interview with Clarence at the afterparty.
Special thanks to Brandice Daniels, CEO of Harlems Fashion Row, and her team for putting together an amazing event highlighting black excellence in the fashion world that helped kick off the start of NYFW Fall 2022. Check out my full video coverage of the Harlem fashion show to view all of the Spring/Summer 2023 collections from the three designers of the evening.
A few days later, I traveled to another show hosted directly outside Spring Studios for the brand Oxblood Zebra’s first NYFW fashion show from the young designer Reuben Shaw. Reuben, originally from the 757 area of Virginia, created Oxblood Zebra by combining the independent and often stubborn nature of the Zebra along with the rich color of oxblood red. At first, I could not find the venue since the location was advertised as outside of Spring Studios but no runway was in sight; I thought perhaps the show would occur backstage or maybe even on the rooftop. However something told me to gravitate towards this live band jamming right on the corner of Varick Street.
Long behold, I spotted a full line of models decked out in bespoke fashionwear waiting along the corner to hit the makeshift runway. A couple of standout looks ranged from an ivory colored women’s jumpsuit with an embroidered Zebra print on the sleeve to a tailored men’s dinner jacket with Zebra prints reminiscent of the playful Hermes style prints.
Following the vibrant show, I caught up with Reuben and one of the runway models, Kwali Liggons, who was sporting one of my favorite designs of the day – a slightly oversized monochrome blue linen shirt along with matching blue linen pants and black monk-strap leather shoes. The tailoring appeared impeccable and with a combat wear look given the large military style chest pocket that all paired really well with a muted orange shoulder bag. Kwali was keen to point out that walking right outside Spring Studios “is in line with the brand being unconventional, fitting all scopes and challenges of what it is to be in fashion during New York Fashion Week.”
Reuben looked relieved to execute his first show while dressed in a pink tuxedo dinner jacket and donning a New York Yankees fitted hat. As he calmly waved at attendees and thanked spectators for attending his show, he remarked “I’m just happy to do something in the spirit of New York City. New York City is a place of opportunity, a place for taking chances and I’m just happy that I was able to take my chance today.” Rueben rightfully took a huge risk of executing a fashion show outside in the traffic of the bustling city on a hot summer afternoon, let alone in front of Spring Studios. But the reward of completing a show without hiccup was definitely worth the risk and now the young designer proves to those from the 757 area that the NYC can be ripe for the taking for the creative who wants to make the journey.
The final leg of my fashion week tour led me to Black Wall Street Gallery where Collum Dillane, founder of Kid Super, debuted his Spring/Summer 2023 collection. Black Wall Street Gallery, spearheaded by owner Dr. Ricco Wright, is a black owned gallery in the heart of Chelsea with a mission to preserve Black culture and promote social justice. The choice of an art gallery as a venue for NYFW truly highlighted the intersection of both the art and fashion worlds but differed in its exclusivity by opening up the show to the entire public.
To no surprise, the event featured a long line of fans waiting around the block but folks were ultimately rewarded with a surprise performance from celebrity guest Saucy Santana. I was fortunate enough to catch Collum the morning after his show opening and engaged with him on what his main goal for this fashion week. He was adamant that he wanted to make sure his show was accessible to all by keeping the doors open as late as possible.
All levels of art enthusiasts could experience his style of fashion which involved transforming original multifaceted paintings into playful yet elegant wearable clothing. I asked him why showcase his work in an art gallery rather than a standard runway and he mentioned, “I think for other people it’s unconventional but for me I was glad that people accepted it as a show. I never felt I was a part of the fashion world so I never really had to follow what they were doing. So I just tried to make the best shows and to be half art and half fashion would be a really powerful show.” Tune in to my video interview with Collum at Black Wall Street Gallery.
A mausoleum, an art gallery and a NYC block all served as innovated platforms for showcasing an array of NYFW shows. Thinking outside the box added a level of sophistication amidst the usual chaos to each event surveyed here and further push the limits of social acceptance for rising designers. The bedrock for properly demonstrating works of art depends on creating a dynamic environment that also creates some intimacy between attendees and artists. The bar keeps rising higher and higher so we can only imagine what next season beholds.