Couture & Cars Fashion Show 2019
Tacoma, Washington | 20.7.19
It was a clear sunset evening. The kind most resembling that enviable summer night whose warmth burns away all memory of overcast and precipitation from the preceding calendar year. Quite rare, even in recent memory, making tonight all the more electric and audiences more receptive to an evening of well-curated independent fashion. And as the shadows grew long over South Puget Sound, it became clear that Tacoma was well positioned to become a key player in the unveiling story of independent fashion in the Pacific Northwest.
Fashion District NW partnered with LeMay – America’s Car Museum for the third annual Couture & Cars Fashion Show. The production, and indeed their professional relationship, has been successful such that plans for a 2020 production were announced prior to tonight’s event.
Gene Juarez returned with an excellent team, collaborating with designers to create a beautiful story of elegance and minimalism that placed the emphasis directly on each collection. And with a cast of local independent designers, models, production team members, news and media—the feeling was certainly one of familiarity in the best possible sense.
That speaks volumes in an otherwise vacated Seattle fashion scene, making FDNW a notable independent fashion production and education organization in the Puget Sound region. And their success goes beyond fashion shows, extending to their commitment to rewrite the narrative of what fashion in the Pacific Northwest could be.
“As much of the attention I can draw to the designers is my focus,” said FDNW founder and CEO David M. Bailey. Having been in the Northwest fashion scene nearly 10 years, he’s gained a unique perspective that motivates him to create experiences and opportunities for artists to gain the recognition they need and move their businesses forward.
“In a lot of ways the city of Seattle has struggled—and the Northwest has struggled—to get recognized nationally as a fashion city . . . So many of our designers put their heart and soul into their garments. It makes it emotional when you invest that much personal time and energy into something. You want to see it thrive.”
While fashion shows are one part of a much larger business plan, they are often the most visible. And that visibility can make the difference between connecting with new consumers or disappearing into the cacophony vying for the market’s already fragmented attention.
But having a platform to showcase one’s work does not minimize the imperative to create work worth showing. The international fashion industry is entirely competitive with well funded luxury brands, streamlined supply chains and deeply entrenched path dependency. They know and serve their audience well.
And for the Pacific Northwest to compete, fashion professionals will need to become fluent in the language and business of fashion and adapt to the many difficulties that prevent them from gaining traction with a growing yet capricious market that values both luxury experiences and ephemeral trends.
The choice in venue is deliberate and well suited to the occasion. In addition to classic and luxury automobiles, LeMay offers a long, rectangular interior with seating for 400 and a large exterior lot for easy parking. Its massive north-facing windows showcase a view of the downtown skyline and Commencement Bay.
The museum welcomed the idea of Couture & Cars the way one welcomes clear skies on the open road. And the cars themselves are carefully presented works of art mirroring the fashion sensibilities of their respective eras. But it’s the rationale behind the venue that makes the runway’s backdrop so fitting.
The story for the evening was a very American one, with independent artists defying the odds to pursue their dreams of establishing international fashion brands set against the backdrop of the commercial, artistic and engineering successes of our storied automotive history.
LeMay is a member of America’s Automotive Trust—a nationwide organization dedicated to the preservation of America’s automotive history though the curation of its physical legacy. The motivation compelling both organizations is a “love affair” which aptly extends to the fashionable nature of the anthropomorphized machinery.
We have in both automobiles and attire the very human need to see ourselves within them, literally and metaphorically. So both industries create stories that exemplify our aspirations to appeal to what ultimately attracts us to each other. With shared values like freedom, leisure, youthfulness, elegance, strength, dignity, grace, and many others.
And both industries transport us to new places, encouraging us to experience geographic diversity and new modalities for growing beyond our inherent limitations.
Thus we have a definition of contemporary luxury that is individually tailored to our specific measurements and aspirations, that frees us to pursue our passions, and connects us to each other.
Though nearly invisible, technology played a key role in the evening’s success. This year’s Couture & Cars was FDNW’s first to feature a multicam experience. In addition to the press invite, the fashion show was live-streamed with a closed circuit feed streamed to the lobby. Branded images from the runway were released on Facebook and Instagram as they were captured. And FDNW have scheduled the release of an HD recap video in the days to come.
Couture & Cars 2019 Promotional Video courtesy FDNW
Northwest fashion has historically been seen as most approachable when it has been most functional. And Seattle has for the last near-century been home to successful fashion brands, stockists and retailers like Filson, Nordstrom, Eddie Bauer, Tommy Bahama and more recently Luly Yang, Renee Bassetti and Amazon.
However, less known are the many couture houses and designers whom at some point called the Pacific Northwest their home. So tonight’s show stands as a reminder of Seattle’s bespoke heritage and offers a glimpse into the fusion of couture artistry and commercial viability.
Couture & Cars featured five independent designers specializing in bespoke garments for a variety of occasions. Newcomers Akrofi Adjumani and Reshma Majithia surprised us with daring and colorful takes on edgy and modest fashion, respectively. While veterans Gustave, Phuong Minh Nguyen and MiMi Wolfe delighted with their strong brand stories and commitment to fine tailoring.
The choice in textiles was a mix of formal and fun with flowing satins, sheer bodices and floral-everything. Understated yet daring, we saw looks that are easily at home in the Northwest, with neutral tones punctuated by pops of brilliant color.
There were no stand-outs per se, but the key word here is consistency. Each designer’s collection was comprised of twelve looks, while Gustavo Apiti showed eighteen and Dream Dresses showed twenty-four.
The first half of the evening saw Adjumani, Majithia and Gustave showcasing back-to-back collections that convey approachable bespoke for stunning entrances.
The final half saw Nguyen and Wolfe showcasing their approach to weddings and special occasions conveying regality, enchantment and whimsy.
Adjumani’s latest collection is inspired by The Spheres at Amazon in Downtown Seattle, with floral patterns, organic textures, and his fine work with sheer materials, juxtaposed against firm structures and unrelenting symmetry. The result is modern yet grounded in the beauty of nature and his Ghanaian heritage.
The BRIN Project is a new venture from Majithia exploring the impact that five individuals have had on her creative journey. Her interpretations of traditional South Asian attire are subtly reimagined with a Northwest sensibility.
Gustave once again delivers his refined style and excellent tailoring. His impressive influences range from contemporary to classical, and include both subtle and overt expressions from his home country of Democratic Republic of Congo. His approach to suits in particular is well refined, though his dressmaking skills are excellent and deserve further exploration.
Custom wedding dress designer Phuong Minh Nguyen returns to Couture & Cars with 24 look from her Dream Dresses line in an exciting blend of contemporary and traditional. With clear influences from romanticism and Southeast Asian culture, as well as fine technical execution, each dress in Nguyen’s collection weaves a unique narrative that makes its wearer the center of their own enchanting story.
Wolfe’s dressmaking skills were on display with an assortment of textiles and construction techniques culminating in a grand story of empowered whimsy. With oversized bow-trains and baroque-inspired embroidery, the resulting collection represents a confident woman in any era whose beauty is exemplified by the strength of her individuality.
In all, Couture & Cars Fashion Show 2019 was a very timely event showcasing some of the Northwest’s newest and established fashion professionals reminding us that there’s more to attire than fast-fashion gimmicks and homogenous off-the-rack finds.
Rather, the Pacific Northwest is a place where every culture comes together to tell a single story, using fashion as a common language, and the artisans herein lend their creative voice in uniting us as a community of creative rebels, whom, when given the opportunity, will set the fashion world on fire.