Fashion Forward

Two weeks ago, I relocated. Leaving Atlanta, my family, and all the familiar surroundings of my childhood, I drove up north for about 13 hours. Destination: New York City.

So, I’ve been here, settled in my lovely Harlem apartment and so far, I love everything about New York City.

And a few days ago, I covered some of the spectacle that is New York Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. I accompanied 2 colleagues to the Arise Fashion Show at Lincoln Plaza on Thursday and then Harlem Fashion Row on Friday. Needless to say, I was blown away with what I saw.

Arise Magazine is fairly new and I’ve been following the upscale publication since it emerged. Arise’s much-anticipated Fashion Show drew a huge crowd, with celebrities of course. I saw Omarion, “Miss” J. Alexander, B.J. Coleman, and so many others. And I saw some of Africa’s best designers, up close and personal!

This was a huge deal to me because I’ve been following Africa’s fashion scene for many, many years now. And yes, Nigerian designers do seem to dominant, but hey, we got it like that! Lanre da Silva-Ajayi, Lisa Folawyio, Tsemaye Binitie, Bunmi Olaye, Fati Asibelua, these fellow Nigerians were among the 7 designers to showcase their Spring/Summer 2012 collections. (I wish Adama Kai of Aschobi had participated because her work is truly amazing, but that’s another story).

The designs were very nice and made for a beautiful show. Lanre da Silva-Ajayi loves the vintage, high-class elite, Victorian aesthetic and the laces she used were A-M-A-Z-I-NG! Nigerians have a strong love affair with lace and Ajayi really takes that affair to another level. I give her props. I LOVE when she paired lace with tweed. I also enjoyed her soft color palette.

Another good collection came from Lisa Folawiyo with Jewel by Lisa. I describe JBL as ultra feminine and modern. So, while Ajayi’s feminine looks take a nod toward the past, JBL is super contemporary, fun and down-to-earth. Her collection, entitled Vintage Love, began with a slideshow of pictures from Nigeria in the late 60’s to early 70s with a funky afrobeat/juju song in the background.

But my favorite collection during the Arise Fashion show came from the South African duo team behind KLuK CGDT, Malcolm Kluk and Christian Gabriel Du Toit. Ethereal, elegant, romantic, progressive…I was blown away!

And the crowd…everyone looked like a model. Standing around, carrying a camera, tripod and bags, I looked so dumpy and frumpy standing next to these New Yorkers. Everyone looked like a fashion model! And I’m convinced I was the shortest person there. My word…one person after another, I kept seeing amazing clothes. Where do these folks shop! And then there was a group of 4 young ladies that walked everywhere together. They drew a lot of attention. Tall, slim, dark-skinned ladies with tiny petite very African faces…these ladies were decked out in chic fashion! I literally wanted to cry. Oh my word. They walked and we watched. I think they may have been related to Jewel Folawiyo because I saw her talking with them after the show, but I have no idea.

And then, Harlem Fashion Row…now this really blew me away! Okay. At the Arise Fashion show, I admittedly was more impressed with the fashions from the guests and audience more so than with what I saw on the runway (but don’t get me wrong, the runway designs killed it!), but at Harlem Fashion Row (HFR), I was THOROUGHLY ASTOUNDED and moved beyond words at the runway fashions much more so than what the guests were wearing. The guests, who seemed to be elite African-Americans, especially, well-do-to African American Harlemites…just wore black suits and cocktail dresses. But the designers put their art to work.

I promise, pieces of heaven walked down that runway. This unique fashion show unabashedly screamed “Black Pride.” A lone saxophonist blared romantic tunes as guests arrived into the auditorium, scuffling around him and speaking in hushed tones. The models pranced around the wooden staircases before parading in a line on the floor. A befitting tribute to Tupac Shakur muted the audience as we heard the fallen rapper’s voice and his familiar poetry. Then during one collection, the models stood and started dancing to the voice of who I think was Aretha Franklin. It was pure magic! The bright colorful skirts, headscarves, funky hairstyles, red lipsticks…And then at the end, a drummer walked onto the stage/runway, beating a huge drum propped between his legs. He flashed a white smile and moved forward, beating, banging, making music. And then all the models walked down the stairs in an encore, filed one after the other, with the designers trailing after. The lighting, the fashion, the wall-to-ceiling glass window with the silhouettes of the buildings…

I kid you not. My heart skipped a couple of beats during the HFR. Fellow Nigerian-American sister, Uchea Nwabuzor brought down a lovely collection in her Ana Kata Line. Huge swaddles of Ankara swathed around the models in a Grecian, 1940’s style marked the Ana Kata collection. The models walked down the stairs, flirtatious and sultry to the smooth voice of a French jazz vocalist.

I’m in Harlem. I’m enjoying blackness. New York City. I’m here and I can’t wait to see more.

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