By Dot Johnson
For years many have joked that Washington, D.C. is the place where fashion goes to die, with the politicos and contractors in their standard suits of blue, black and gray, where New York fashionistas eviscerated us for our tennis shoes with our suits as we walked from point A to point B around town.
But that’s the stereotype. The reality is that DC is being fueled by a fashion boom and a swell of fresh creative energy since November.
Funny what a difference a new president (and First Lady) makes.
Capitalizing on this new energy were Bisi Entertainment & Jules Management & Consulting. The groups collaborated to launch the First Annual African Fashion Showcase & Design Competition May 30.
The show featured rising black and African designers, vendors and modeling talent from around the DC Metro Area.
Project Runway’s Korto Momulu of Season 5 was the guest celebrity judge and shared some of her most recent work. The bulk of the show was devoted to the locally recognized and nationally showcased work of Cote Minou and Leonche with Kustom Looks, Zizi’s Boutique, Knaf Couture and Faye Leon.
More after the jump.
From the congressmen living on boats at Gangplank, staffers throwing back Coronas at the Cantina, to families ordering bushels of crabs at the Maine Avenue Fish Market or the chrome that pulls into Zanzibar, the Waterfront is in short — a scene.
Dusk on the SW Waterfront is an enviable place to be for any beltway insider, so when The Snob herself asked me to attend the event in her place, I knew I was in for an evening of fashionable delights. The club filled quickly with a crowd of excited fans and friends. Their enthusiasm varied between respectful clapping and spirited shouts throughout the show as they reacted to the models, their clothes and their walks.
Those flanking the catwalk were loud and opinionated, as the more astute trend-spotters flittered in and out of the show and mingled amongst surrounding tables and the bar. The energy in the room vacillated between supportive cheers to boisterous distracting catcalls; quite a departure from the stuffy glances and golf claps of most fashion show audiences. The ruckus was fun but at times a bit too rowdy in contrast to efforts of the planners and the models.
Project Runway’s Korto Momolu took time out from the show to chat about her childhood in Monrovia, Liberia, what’s next for her work and of course, Michelle Obama.
Momolu confirmed what many have thought — that DC’s notoriety amongst fashion hubs is increasing largely due to the changing administration and political atmosphere.
“New York may not be Mecca anymore and DC can exist without New York,” Momolu said, and I certainly share this belief given the thriving boutique scene here in the District and the “great energy that is attracting people.”
As a child, Momolu’s family left Liberia and became refugees in Canada. Now living in Arkansas with her husband and daughter, Momulu shuffles amongst LA, NY and gets to DC often enough to crush on our emerging fashion scene in between helping with casting and judging on future Project Runway seasons. That night Momulu’s ruffled gowns and flattering skirts celebrated feminine curves without overplaying them and showcased a few of her pelted handbags, one of which cleverly utilized a plated tusk for a handle.
Momolu is currently prepping her handbag and jewelry lines to launch and would welcome a call from the First Lady whom she complimented for using a variety of American designers that have helped her “create a new standard for successful and sexy.” But Momolu also understand the cultural and racial pressure on both the president and First Lady, even in fashion.
“The old rules could hurt her as people expect them to do everything black and they can’t. Everyone wants to see themselves in this couple,” Momolu said.
Several of the pieces, many from locally based designers who call Cameroon, Sierra Leon and Ghana home, were “Michelle-worthy.” Here’s just a sample of the evening’s wares.
Cote Minou “Threads of the Motherland” has properly identified itself as a “resurrection of color” amongst numerous fashion shows throughout the country, holiday showcases and inaugural balls and events. Maryanne Mokoko and Stephanie Mouapi’s work flaunted bright flirtatious sashes and big geometric prints utilizing African fabrics and asymmetric garnishes. They revisited up and down techniques keeping their silhouettes crisp and fitted with gentle flounces, capped sleeves and drop waists that modernized these traditional styles. Their most exciting and certainly sellable pieces were simple ready to wear pencil skirts and flirty tops that paired daring bows and sashes against darker but equally garish jewel tones. From their prêt a portiere to the couture, Cote Minou pieces were one after the other fun and daring. It’s amazing that these two young talents are only in their early 20s but not surprising considering the youth and vigor of the work.
Although equally vibrant and innovative, Leonche’s Almira Wilson offered a more East African flavor with a palette loaded with gilded and citrus that celebrated her native Sierra Leonne. Wilson’s work was ornate and delicate in its use of eastern inspired patterns and softer, luxurious textures for her stunning formal wear; however her pocketed jersey dresses remained powerfully exotic but playfully bohemian whether one was attending a beach party on the Eastern Shore or dinner at Marvins. With family roots that extend to Senegal, Gambia, Morocco, Liberia, and Guinea, Wilson’s range of cultural sensibilities brings traditional African garments farther into the mainstream with elegant flourishes along neck and waistlines without being too gaudy.
The menswear of Silver Spring based Kustom Looks was a curious mish mash of 50s era gangster and sexy 70s disco. Which makes it sound weirder than it actually was. A few of the silk shirt pinstripe combinations floundered with the crowd at Zanzibar but I thought it was bold attempt to tone down and combine some ideas from these two fashion forward generations. Kwab Asamoah is a Ghanese-born designer who could be dressing Samuel L or Dennis Rodman, as his work demands the wearer want to stand out in the crowd. My eye was drawn to the subtle details of his work including button cuffed pants and oddly placed beltloops on some of his more conservative suits. One leather lined seersucker suit was just too hard to pull off but as a native Southerner I sort of admired Kustom Looks’ tenacity to funk up a rather uptight good ole’ boy classic.
Work from other local designers included elegant satin gowns by Faye Leon, colorful beach inspired frocks by Maimuna and Janneta of Zizi’s Boutique and amazingly cute blazers by Kayda Nana Afriyie Frimpong of Knaf Couture and Bisi herself of Bisi Beautiful Creations. Kayda and Bisi’s colorful blazers opened the show and were a Red Bull fused jolt to the capped sleeve, single button numbers we see all the time here in the District. Knaf Couture’s afro-prep pleated kilt was a bit of a stretch and some of the construction was sloppy around collars and sleeves but managed many cat calls from the audience for her easy to wear color. Faye Leon’s gowns were a jazzy tribute to classic 50s era torch dresses with a minimalist approach to color, daring hemlines and flattering drop waists that celebrated curves without overdoing them.
Africa In Demand
Dot Johnson is a regular contributor to The Black Snob. A resident of the D.C. Metro area, Johnson is an artist, writer and producer who can be found at her site, www.dotjohnson.com.