Fashion Forward 

An emerging fashion scene showcases crescent city style

click to enlarge NLE Images by Amy Jett  of Lux Photographie.
  • NLE Images by Amy Jett of Lux Photographie.

In a city that historically has been better known for its food, music and art scenes than its fashion savvy, events ranging from a Project Runway-style designer competition to full-blown fashion weeks are popping up like chic mushrooms. This February and March, a smorgasbord of designer runway shows, boutique showcases, industry parties, trunk shows and fashion education events takes the city by storm. For New Orleans fashionistas, 2011 is poised to be what 2010 was for New Orleans Saints fans: a groundbreaking, exciting and likely frenetic period, during which there will be very little time for sleep.

  There's something strangely zeitgeist-y about the way so many disparate groups independently scheduled similar, occasionally simultaneous fashion events. More than anything, this speaks to a need in the New Orleans market for a cohesive fashion scene and the infrastructure necessary to sustain it, as well as to the common vision of a talented cadre of designers, photographers, boutique owners, models, event planners, stylists, hair and makeup artists and others. As different as these artists are, they share the same goal: to elevate the local fashion scene so it is commensurate with the city's status as a cultural mecca.

  "We want to create an economic and artistic impact, to put New Orleans on the map as a global destination for fashion events," says Nicholas Landry, cofounder of NOLA Fashion Week. "I don't think there's anywhere in the U.S. right now where so many people can try so many things and have an opportunity for success. The entrepreneurial spirit and creative spirit is the highest of any other city that is out there."

  Though some potential sponsors and industry professionals initially questioned New Orleans' viability as a fashion destination, voicing concerns that it lacks local production facilities for designer lines, a voice on the Arts Council, consumer support and interest from national buyers and press, designer John Delgadillo points out that, until recently, Louisiana had no film industry, either. Thanks to a team of creative people united by a common vision (along with generous tax incentives), New Orleans is now "Hollywood of the South" — and the same is possible for its fashion scene, which goes hand-in-hand with a burgeoning film industry.

click to enlarge This images, taken at the NOLA Fashion Week Launch party, showcase designs that that will appear at the March event. - Photo by Amy Jett
  • Photo by Amy Jett
  • This images, taken at the NOLA Fashion Week Launch party, showcase designs that that will appear at the March event.

  "Being from Los Angeles, I know Hollywood does not happen without fashion," says Delgadillo, who created the Alegria fashion show, now in its third year, to spotlight emerging local designers. "I really believe if a few designers created good names and solid businesses based out of New Orleans, there would be a spot for this city on the fashion maps, and it would spur a new industry that would bring in a lot of money."

  A robust fashion industry's potential economic impact can't be ignored, and neither can its charitable contributions. Alegria has partnered with the Louisiana SPCA; Fashion Week New Orleans has partnered with the NO/AIDS Task Force, Dress for Success and Fashion Institute of New Orleans (FINO); New Orleans International Fashion Week is working to fund a scholarship program for Louisiana art, design and fashion students; and NOLA Fashion Week has teamed with Friends of City Park, Covenant House and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.

  "Fashion Week New Orleans' goal is to redefine what it means to be fashionable, while giving back to the community through charitable partnerships, educational programs and scholarships," says Tracee Dundas, creative director of Fashion Week New Orleans. "New Orleans has always had a strong fashion scene — you see it at festivals and day-to-day on Magazine Street or in the Marigny."

click to enlarge Kano Brandon, who designed this look, will be featured at fashion week new orleans. - Image courtesy of Tracee Dunda
  • Image courtesy of Tracee Dunda
  • Kano Brandon, who designed this look, will be featured at fashion week new orleans.

  Elsa Brodmann, designer of ready-to-wear fashion label Ottilie Brodmann and editor and founding partner of style magazine Amelie G, has long found inspiration in New Orleanians' amalgamation of street-style, costume and fashion pieces. "We have such a broad selection of fashion influences that New Orleans has become an underground fashion destination in its own right," Brodmann says. "We respond to the French sophistication that founded our city as much as we speak to the gutter punks and smoky jazz greats. Unlike other cities where neighborhood lines divide fashion tastes, we have it all blended together."

  The pride, eclecticism and sense of identity endemic to New Orleans' neighborhoods are reflected in the city's multifaceted fashion scene, where there's a place for everything from nutria fur garments (See our March 1, 2010 feature about the Righteous Fur show) to couture Harold Clarke ball gowns. At this juncture, it's crucial to maintain a collaborative spirit, rather than lapsing into competition, which could easily happen when three different groups are claiming the title "Fashion Week," Delgadillo points out.

  "The power of a strong, supportive community is immeasurable," says designer Lawren Michele, who will showcase her line at New Orleans International Fashion Week. "I honestly believe I would not be where I am today as a designer if it weren't for the support I received from my community."

click to enlarge Meghann harney of Selvaggio designs created this dress for the Alegria competition. - Photo by Jason Kruppa
  • Photo by Jason Kruppa
  • Meghann harney of Selvaggio designs created this dress for the Alegria competition.

  Landry echoes these sentiments, saying that anybody who's doing anything to cultivate the fashion industry in New Orleans should be commended. "It sounds cliche, but if you build it, they will come," Landry says. "If not now, when? If not us, who?"

Alegria is from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 20 at the W Hotel New Orleans (333 Poydras St., 525-9444; www.starwoodhotels.com). For tickets and more information, visit www.la-spca.org/alegria.

New Orleans International Fashion Week is Feb. 19-26 at the Contemporary Arts Center (900 Camp St., 528-3800; www.cacno.org). Visit www.bourbonpark.com for more information.

Fashion Week New Orleans is March 15-18 at The Sugar Mill (1021 Convention Center Blvd., 586-0004; www.sugarmillevents.com). Visit www.fashionweeknola.com for more information.

click to enlarge Ashley gunkel, who designed this orange dress, will compete at Alegria. - Photo by Jason Kruppa
  • Photo by Jason Kruppa
  • Ashley gunkel, who designed this orange dress, will compete at Alegria.

NOLA Fashion Week is March 21-26 at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (925 Camp St., 539-9600; www.ogdenmuseum.org). Visit www.nola-fashionweek.com for more information.

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Posted by Runway Magazine on February 15, 2011 at 3:20 PM | Report this comment

This inaugural year will be a testament as to whether or not New Orleans can sustain itself as a fashion mecca. I don't think we'll ever be as fashion destination the way NYC or even L.A. is but the real litmus test will be the draw of independent, locally based designers doing small scale operations. How will be put our own NOLA spin on the scene we are trying to create here? That will be the big draw vs. replicating what exists elsewhere.

The fact that we don't have a substantial mall in Orleans Parish makes it evident that creating this fashion culture will prove challenging at best. Regardless I will be attending two of the fashion weeks as they've both piqued my interest.

- Christy of http://www.slowsouthernstyle.com

Posted by Slow Southern Style on February 15, 2011 at 7:31 PM | Report this comment

I applaud New Orleans and its bevy of young, creative designers for taking a bold stride to put themselves on the national map of fashion. With a great new editorial magazine and designers dedicated to the look, feel and creative pattern of New Orleans, we certainly have a lot to look forward to as NOLA opens its runways and boutiques to the new kids on the block.

Posted by DarlaB. on February 15, 2011 at 10:33 PM | Report this comment

I for one am glad that NOLA is finally making a little progress in the fashion industry. I agree with Christy, we may never be a major fashion destination, but the amount of effort that young, indie designers are putting forth is outstanding! It looks like they pulled some really good designers too. I did some googling, and think that Lawren Michele is this girl (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawren_Pope), which is pretty cool. And I loooooove that gown from Ashley Gunkel.

Posted by ErikaStevens on February 18, 2011 at 1:21 PM | Report this comment

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