- A model walks before empty seats during DC Fashion Week (Photo: TBD Staff)
The routine is the same at Saturday and Sunday nights’ fashion shows: Ean Williams wanders around, microphone too close to his face, looking for people to fill his front-row VIP seats. He is trying to get a rise out of the crowd, to get them excited while keeping people calm. Like all fashion shows, these start late.
Williams is a self-described country boy, a fashion designer, and the executive director of the week’s loosely planned activities. He has been running DC Fashion Week since 2004, and he should stop.
First, the scene must be set for Friday night’s show, that of Corjor International — Williams’ own line. At Mood Lounge on 9th Street, the regulars are obviously confused by the 100 people that have packed the slim entryway and blocked the restrooms before the 9 p.m. show. By the time the crowd is allowed to go to the second floor at 9:30, it is immediately clear that the only people with a view of the runway will be the 20 photographers who were let up early with their gear. Everyone else is stuck in the corner, looking at each other.
Saturday’s show feels like a recipe for success — eight designers showing menswear. Menswear! Vendors showing a variety of goods greet attendees: bags made in Africa, jewelry, slimming undergarments for men and women. There is the struggle to fill the VIP seats, and a barefoot woman wearing velour pants takes one of them.
When the show finally starts, the lighting can’t settle itself and a background best fit for a karaoke bar projector screen plays on loop against the far wall. The backgrounds, ranging from a cartoon girl mouthing something indecipherable to a cat scratching its ear, stick around for the entire show.
The collections range from boring to ridiculously extreme. Top Rank showcased military-style gear; Stella Bonds had a bunch of guys in their underwear; Will C Styles put buttons on things and could have opened his own T.G.I. Fridays with all the extra flair. After intermission, tailor Paul Koko’s suits had obvious fit issues; Jeantrix Clothing featured 3-D looks that included a skull perched on one model’s shoulder; Ray Vincente closed out the show with a wearable, preppy line. The models are unbearable, slouching down the runway before pivoting and rushing back from whence they came.
Sunday night’s international couture arrives with the grandeur of the French Embassy and a whisper of D.C. Housewives filming. A quick peek at the names on the empty VIP seats discounts the rumor. Another awkward delay and the backgrounds on loop return, along with the lighting issues. At some point, Williams reminds the crowd that then-mayor Anthony Williams issued a proclamation in support of DC Fashion Week in its inaugural year. That was two mayors ago.
Silvia Hueza’s designs hang alongside others at Red Hue, her Rockville boutique. The collection works for the most part, but some construction and fit issues distract from the varied silhouettes. Norwegian Rudy Wolff follows, with piles of black velvet with sequins. For the most part, it works. My notes turn to scribbles from there: Berry Couture has “spaceship” and “metallic Barbie” scrawled next to it. D.M. Seikai offers fun rockabilly looks, but can’t make synthetics work on the runway. Eljoy Designs is embarrassing and has a theme song.
The intermission runs too long due to, at this point, a completely expected lighting issue; Williams bides his time by giving away front row seats which will later be approached by ticket-holders who stepped away during the break. Iran’s Heydari is an interesting opener for the second act, and the line’s fans have assembled with flowers. But then, Williams pauses the show to speak from behind his Oz curtain, introducing vendors one by one with long, muffled descriptions. He excuses his country self at one point to tell his models to “shut up” behind the stage. The crowd is restless. Two hours have passed, with five designers to go. Corjor International, of course, closes the show.
Williams has tried to instill a hunger for fashion in Washingtonians, but bad marketing and event planning are to blame for what one anonymous retailer called “a mixed bag.” Harness the power of the Greater Washington Fashion Chamber of Commerce, D.C.’s Commission on the Arts and Humanities, or any of the city’s active and vibrant business associations and improvement districts. DC Fashion Week must either bond with the groups that already have fashion on their radar, or stand alone to struggle. Better yet: leave the fashion events to ReadysetDC or Brightest Young Things. These groups, without much of a hand from local organizations, are showing off D.C.’s designers and visiting emerging artists better than this once-sanctioned D.C. event ever could.