When it comes to fashion, it’s hard to think of D.C. as anything more than a sea of suits. However, during the last week of September, politicians and primadonnas run the city together, as Washingtonians are invited to celebrate the art of fashion and showcase their work in a week-long extravaganza. This year’s D.C. Fashion Week started local with the annual H Street Festival Fashion Show to exhibit the work of H street designers and ended on an international note with the 31st International Couture Collections Showcase hosted at the French Embassy. Yet, the spirit of Fashion Week can perhaps be felt most strongly during the Metropolitan Emerging Designers & India Artists Showcase (M.E.D.I.A.) in which local designers, vendors, and musicians basque in the glitz and glamor of the fashion world while models effortlessly strut down the runway wearing provocative, creative, and bold statements.
“We don’t call them hats—I call it statement wear. I wanted to get away from the monotonous, commercialized fashion and bring some flavor and really bring something unique to the U.S.,” Mayshaim Tahir Aziz, designer of Zindagi Apparel, told the Voice.
Aziz was one of many designers present at the M.E.D.I.A. showcase who treats her work as more than just merely clothing. She sees it as a way to save culture. The hand cut and sewn hats that she designs are marked by a traditional round-topped crown, custom in Pakistan centuries ago. Now, they constitute a dying art that Aziz is trying to revive through sustainable collaboration with Pakistani crafters. Zindagi is just one powerful example of how fashion can combine both art and business in an effort to spread compassion.
Zindagi was not alone in its mission to preserve and share its heritage through fashion. Other lines including Get-A-Fashion, traditional black clothing complemented by subtle gold geometric patterns, and Welin, which modifies Middle Eastern garb with asymmetric patterns and the occasional splash of blue, yellow, and red, were both created by designers from Indonesia who flew all the way to D.C. for the event. Even more stunning was S.L. Fashion and Designs & Mitindo Night, a Tanzanian fashion line inspired by Massai culture, known for its distinctive dress in Kenya and Tanzania, that graced the runway with its bold and brightly patterned vests, tunics, and gowns.
Able by Amanda Campbell also uses its platform to provoke the audience, sharing a very intimate message about femininity to empower women struggling with eating disorders. Designed to be worn by “real women, no matter her size or shape,” each piece in Able was inspired by a different emotional experience. The collection, called “Imperfections,” brings together elegant tones of gray, black, white, and turquoise with lovely pearl crowns and transforms from day wear into sparkly fairytale-esque gowns, one even including a white hood reminiscent of Little Red Riding Hood.
While all the designs were certainly think pieces, not all of them were so serious. The event opened with the jaw-dropping work of EJE INTL Designs which trapezes the edge of beautiful and spooky. From a shimmering Medusa crown accompanying a glamorous, floor-length green dress to a frisky, glimmering skirt that is does not even attempt to cover any skin, these clothes are not for an everyday affair. Similarly, Roots by Bella, clothing inspired by rock and roll music, and Frankiez Customz, a collection of funky, asymmetric, and often iridescent patterns, were created with an extra flair that absolutely demanded to be seen.
The glitter that rained down on the stage during these three showcases could surely not outshine the whimsical and gorgeous designs of Dahjay Renee and Letwa Fashion Collection LLC. Dahjay Renee, created by Vanessa Johnson, does not speak—it yells. Johnson’s designs range from flashy office wear to flamboyant dresses, including her finale piece, a full-length cotton-candy skirt that poofs out in swirls of blue, pink, purple, and green. Letwa Gooden’s line is self-titled, and this former naval officer brought the night to an end with similarly bold and heart-stopping material that transformed from day to evening wear, from flowery pastelles to orange silk to jazzy glitter-gradient dresses.
D.C. Fashion Week is a unique occasion for the community to delve into the world of art and business as seen through the eyes of local and international designers. The M.E.D.I.A. showcase is the pinnacle of that experience, providing a stage for emerging artists to share their work, many of whom were debuting their fashion for the first time. Like any good art exhibit, the pieces at the M.E.D.I.A. showcase were created to challenge the audience, to ask them to consider the meaning behind the clothing. In the midst of fashion week, the stories in the stitches are as loud as the runway music, but as the celebration fades, Washington will have to remember to add a little razzle dazzle to the sea of suits.