Exploring Columbus’s Thriving Tradition
By Janice Carter Levitch
Fashion Week in Columbus, Ohio is a first-of-its-kind nonprofit organization focused on providing a platform for local and emerging fashion designers to showcase their work and to expand their network in the fashion business. Scholastic achievement is supported by offering scholarships to talented and deserving fashion design students in the central Ohio area and providing year-round programs that benefit the fashion community. Since 2010, Fashion Week Columbus has held over 50 events and featured over 100 designers and 500 models, making Columbus the host of the largest Fashion Week in the Midwest.
The founder, Thomas McClure, was working as a director of a Columbus talent agency in 2010 when he began researching other major cities that were creating their own fashion weeks, all the while askng himself why Columbus didn’t have its own. With his client and model connections he launched the idea to immediate success, growing from a four-day Fashion Week in 2010 to a seven-day event in 2017. Notably, it was launched as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which is a rare status for any fashion week organization in the world. His careful guidance has cultivated an impressive following. I tip my beret in approval to his motivation and passion for his work in the creative community as a whole.
As I prepared for the evening of the 2017 Grande Finale Runway Show, I carefully planned my outfit, head to toe in anything black. Inspired by the chic fashion vibe in Columbus, I realized the boutiques in the Short North District, much like our trendy Bardstown Road area, were calling my name. I heard it loud and clear, so I had no choice but to answer the call. An elegant storefront caught my eye so I strolled into a women’s clothing and accessory boutique. The architecture and decor appealed to my sense of interior design, with exposed brick interior walls that looked ancient juxtaposed by the gleamingly modern display of accessories and jewelry.
I clipped up the makings of something new to wear for the evening and quickly changed, confidently knowing we had a winner. I suddenly felt like Anna Wintour on my way to an exclusive runway event.
Approaching the venue I thought about my own city. Why doesn’t Louisville have something like this? We’re a fiercely fashionable city that knows how to pull off highly acclaimed events—after all, we host the Kentucky Derby annually which is of international regard. Attended by everyone from royalty to rock stars, the spirit of the race is in the local patrons who have Thoroughbred racing in their blood simply by osmosis.
Maintaining my Anna Wintour persona and a touch of James Bond, I arrived backstage. It was dusk and the light had a golden hue enveloping the large white tent set up at the stagedoor, reminding me of the open air markets of North Africa. As I walked closer, I could hear the hum of upbeat music, models shuffling about, makeup artists and stylists rolling out their color palettes on the long tables preparing for the evening. I had walked directly into the tent housing the makeup and hair team working feverishly in an assembly line. Model after model rotated in front of the artists, makeup brushes moving swiftly from face to face—extraordinary beauties of all sizes and ethnicities. It was exhilarating and I reveled in having chosen the perfect entrance.
The entire crew was in production mode. They maintained an air that was professional and polite, yet seemed to be on roller skates gliding effortlessly from one spot to another. The show’s director, Erin Maloney, introduced herself and gave me a quick tour of backstage, giving me an up close view of rack after rack of beautiful sumptuous designs. From floor length gowns embellished with thousands of hand sewn floral epaulettes to leather fringe vests with an Aboriginal motif. I imagined how each distinct design would light up on the enormous runway waiting on the other side of the curtain wall. Spotlights at the ready, guests were beginning to flood into the main entrance, which resembled, in set up alone but also in vigor, Great Market Hall in Budapest.
As I made my way through the curtain and gave my regards to the attendants securing the backstage, I found the front room lively with anticipation. As guests were taking their seats before the first beat of music that would direct the rhythm of the first model’s walk, I proudly took note of my media seat assignment to cover my first story for The Voice-Tribune-—the best in the house, dead center at the end of the runway, how apropos.
In a short few minutes the guests would be allowed to take their seats. The music would start and the models would flow down the runway. Here I was, sitting in the best seat in the house! My lifelong love affair with fashion is no secret, so I felt right at home as I snuggled comfortably into my seat to prepare for the runway spectacle.
New York-based by way of Buenos Aires, Alex Vinash channeled his experience as an Argentinian professional ice-skating national into fashion design. Vinash’s elegant designs have resonated well in the industry and were of stunning visual appeal for the runway show. Each designer made a modernistic appeal, communicating a consensus that fashion is art and self expression at its finest. Included were Gerardo Encinas (Encinas Designs), Esther Sands (Amammre), Jonathan Marc Stein, Joan Madison (Signature Collection Joan’s Bridal Couture), Jessica Deluca (Deluca Designs), Juan Jose Saenz-Ferreyros (Ferreyros by Juan Jose Saenz Ferreyros), Kyoko Seki (Mrly Brand), Olivia Dorado (Midnight Ink), Sika Inme (The Kingdom Fashion) and Zuri Greer (Persona Custom Clothiers).
Using Columbus as a comp city to explore the possibilities of a Fashion Week in Louisville—and I am far from the first to promote this potential, and hopefully not the last—is helpful in predicting the likelihood of our future success. While Columbus may have a larger population than the Derby City (2 million MSA as compared to our
1.27 million MSA) I believe a dedicated and talented few could effectively click their heels together and say “there’s no place like home” for a an effort similar to this. As much as I enjoy Columbus as a destination for art and fashion, Louisville is my love, and I aspire to show the world, while perhaps even proving to ourselves, that we can sustain a formidable fashion industry. From a fashion perspective, we certainly are home to the creative talent, and our design community here has established itself in a way that can no longer be classified as “emerging.”
Similarly to Columbus, Louisville is a city that excels at identifying needs within the community and addressing them with an innovative approach. There have been attempts at versions of Louisville Fashion Week in the past, but with the success of Columbus as our guide, I think is time we look at this with a fresh set of smokey eyes. Creating change through the lens of inspired art and design is something our city is ready for; in fact, it’s something for which it is desperate. We live in a city that employs its own identity through fashion—eclectic and untethered from any rules. It’s what I love about our city—first class attitude and vision. Now let’s channel that to the runway.