NO for an Answer: New Orleans Debuts First Fashion Week – Part II

Several designers involved in NOLA FW openly admit to initial uncertainty. Bensen, whose label is not even a year-old, says, “We were extremely skeptical of doing a fashion week in New Orleans. Trying to be L.A. or New York is not really something that we were wanting to be a part of.” She caveats this with, “[NOLA FW] absolutely exceeded my expectations.” Miller, of the New York City-based Sophomore, expressed a similar mentality, but trusted in business partner von Froomer’s hometown; “I don’t think we would have done this had it not been New Orleans. We’re not that kind of brand.”

Like any grand scale production, NOLA FW came with its kinks. While I don’t intend to harp, I’d like to offer constructive criticism of a few things. First, walk the walk. While I acknowledge the models weren’t expected to be experts, some of their goofy gaits distracted from the fashion at hand. Concurred local showgoer Elizabeth Schindler, “Next New Orleans Fashion Week, I have every intention of volunteering with an emphasis on starting a walking seminar to teach these little girls how to walk. They just don’t have the rhythmic walk! It’s so off-putting. It’s a poor representation. New Orleans should be held to the same standards as everywhere else when it comes to fashion. That’s what we’re trying to do, right?” Right. Two words: proof read. Fliers for the designers included sporadic spelling and grammatical errors, enough to warrant my saying something. Offer variety in eats. Saturday’s event served identical apps to Friday’s, which, for folks in it for the long haul, like myself, proved disappointing. I subsisted on Jamba Juice (no complaint there!) and the same carrots and dip for 48 hours straight. Life could be worse, but…

Back to New Orleans. The city seems to hold a certain power over people. LeBlanc shares some additional insight on the nature of encouragement in NOLA. “Anything that’s starting to get off the ground, you need to support it. In New Orleans, everybody’s really excited about some of the young designers. They have a lot of potential.” The originally apprehensive Miller says, “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into here, but next year I want to help [bring] bigger editors like Mickey Boardman [of Paper Magazine] or Derek Blasberg [of] to [provide] more exposure.” (I found this statement especially telling given that I actually pitched Paper…)

As a prime example of just how far the NOLA FW team’s dream reached, countless local students, hailing mainly from Tulane, bent over backwards to get in on the action. Bright-eyed and bushytailed kids put in all kinds of time, frequently skipping class and blowing off homework to help out. Spanish paper? What Spanish paper? All for the greater good, of course. Imagine adding that to your resume! Casting calls for models were conducted on campuses, too, so the whole shebang was steeped in connecting with the community, a grassroots approach that resulted in many a Kappa Kappa Gamma sashaying down the runway.

A lot of this year’s contributors are amped for what’s to come. John David Robbins, Louisiana born and bred but based in New York, says he wants to be even more involved next season. “Things like this are what the city needs,” he believes. Director of Marketing at H.H. Heritage Brand Group, Robbins provided footwear for Arthur’s show on Saturday (Kork-Ease for women, Vintage for men). Of the experience, Arthur tells me, “It’s been phenomenal. I’m already gearing up for fall.” If all of the aforementioned testimony isn’t proof enough, social media should suffice to fill in any holes; exclaims Robbins, “People have been tweeting like crazy about this thing!” Well, folks, there you have it. Trending.

Speaking of the digital dimension, NOLA FW pulled out all the stops to supplement the presentation portion. Thursday’s discussion, “Creating a Compelling Voice: A Conversation About National Blogs and Local Fashion,” brought bloggers to town: Lindsey Calla of, Keiko Groves of, Christine Camerone of and Robert Hicks of Landry illuminates the reasoning for imported talent; “It’s all about education. What experience the bloggers in New York can pass to the bloggers down here to help support the fashion industry here. As we’re building the industry, we need the media to support it.” Gallery owner Martine Chaisson couldn’t be more pleased to play host to said gathering; “The event was perfect! I was excited that so many people came. I would like to do something bigger for next time.” And so it goes.

It’s true, the turnout overall was solid, for some shows more than others. Nick expressed pride; “Response has been overwhelmingly positive.” With modesty he adds, “I am so humbled by the experience. I can’t say enough how excited I am to share this with everybody. To share these designers with everybody. They’re amazing. They really are.”

Such a successful first run, with widely shared high hopes for the future of fashion in New Orleans (and this platform in particular), begs the question: what next? It’s not so much a question of if, but of when. Landry says September, tentatively. He adds with a laugh, “It doesn’t conflict with an LSUor a Saints football game.”

Football’s fine, but New Orleans inhabitants have spoken loud and clear: make room for fashion. Now, will fashion make room for New Orleans? “People kind of discount New Orleans, especially after Katrina,” says Chaisson. “They feel like nothing’s going on here. But it’s so vibrant.” Von Froomer recalls her childhood in NOLA; “I remember growing up here. There was nothing. At all. It’s cool that New Orleans is trying to get on the map fashion-wise.” Robbins adds, “A lot like New York, [New Orleans] just gets in you.” Perhaps Bensen puts it best: “We’re not victims. We’re fine. We’re great. We have a lot of talent. We should be known for more than these tragic things that happen to us. We’re happy to help people fall in love with New Orleans again.”

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