kansas city fashion week (and why i write about fashion)

What have I been up to this month?

Good question. As with any response that could easily be said in a few words, I think I’ll start with a quote from the one and only bell hooks:

 “When we’re talking about race or class or gender, popular culture is where the pedagogy is, it’s where the learning is…it has power in everyday life.”

My writing dips into several different areas in culture; one of those areas is fashion.  Fashion is fascinating because it actually does dictate a part of everyone’s life, even if that part is merely throwing on a work uniform as part of a morning routine.  Essentially, fashion is a conflict between “high culture” (think Prada, Chanel) that considers itself art and the “lower” culture, aka the cheap designs that make it to the Misses section in Walmart. Historical movements are marked by fashion trends—the shapeless flapper dresses of the 1920s, indicating a rebellion from traditional femininity, for example. Fashion is class, race, gender, and cultural differences (or similarities) seamed together and torn apart in material form.

Plus, styling outfits can be pretty fun, you know, on a non-theoretical level. Go figure.

I’m not totally embracing or even endorsing the fashion industry; manufacturing is cruel (outsourcing, exploitation, factory collapses), as are the body expectations for women (you’re either tall, thin, and white, or the exotic Other). But connections between these material and economic relations and cultural representation—or, probably more appropriate, the disconnect between them—are all the more reason to check yourself if you roll your eyes at the word fashion.

So what have I been up to? I’ve been covering Kansas City Fashion Week, in my newest project as a contributor for the New York-based website, The Style Line. KCFW was held March 13-16 in KC’s own historic Union Station, and it featured designers from across the country.  Some collections erred on the side of boring, but most runway shows were legitimately a ball to watch. 

Union Station, Kansas City, Missouri

On Saturday’s shows, I sat next to a designer from New York. She asked my permission to editorialize out loud, and I happily let her. “Oh that is good. See that patterned skirt? That’s so tough, to match the pattern where the skirt is seamed, and the designer totally pulled it off… Is that a pin holding that dress together? Hello, have a fitting before the show… Ohmygod, yes, from now on every runway show needs to start with capoeira,” she said at the beginning of L.O.D.’s Brazilian-inspired showcase of yellows and greens. I didn’t bother to correct her use of capoeira; I was drawn in by her commentary, and even added my own knowledgable remarks. “Well… her hair looks good, so…”

My favorite collection was designed by Andrea Marie Long, partly because of my obsession with checkered patterns, and partly because the Cossack headbands made me imagine that I was watching Fiddler on the Roof circa 2014 (a very, very good thing). Plus, her capes were stunning. I can only imagine the skill it takes to design and craft them.

The best part about Kansas City Fashion Week, though, was the impressive community effort that it took to produce the event. The models, hair stylists, makeup artists, media, sponsors, and general public were all local. I saw people in the audience dressed as though they expected Anna Wintour to show up, and I saw others who seemed to think that Kohl’s is haute couture. Again: I saw fashion as represented by different cultures and classes, but all from the Kansas City community.

It’s a long time since I’ve experienced such a strong sense of creativity and community in one place, and I was thrilled. Well done, Kansas City Fashion Week.

For more of my KCFW coverage, visit The Style Line’s Tumblr.

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