Harlem Fashion Week 2019 kicked off on February 16, 2019, at the Museum of the City of New York. Founded by the mother-daughter duo, Yvonne Jewnell and Tandra Birkett (pictured below), Harlem
fashion week was pioneered by the duo because runway shows during New York Fashion Week were unwilling to show then 17 year old, Jewnell’s work. Now in its 6th season, Harlem Fashion Week features designers who do not typically have the opportunity to show on the New York Fashion Week (NYFW) runway, as well as local businesses in the uptown area. The event celebrates and encourages support for emerging designers in the uptown fashion scene and beyond, providing the opportunity to show their work to a wide audience.
The elegant, marbled rotunda of the Museum with its spiraled staircase ascending into a lofted hallway proved to be the perfect canvas for the vibrant colors and creative assemblage by six emerging designers: Yvonne Jewnell NY, House of MM, Neckolay Designs, Simply Greta, House of Thai, and QhakazaMshibe African Accessories.
Looking around and observing the eclectic mix of people and their personal style was a preview and reflection of the runway show itself; a gentleman clad in an all purple ensemble, unapologetically punctuated by gold platform shoes and dramatic kohl eyeliner, another man dressed in all black, topping off the ensemble with a statement studded leather jacket, as if elevating street-wear to glitterati status, women dressed in bright, bold, impeccably tailored ethnic prints with sky-high heels and eye-catching accessories, to dapper gentlemen in patterned smoking jackets and sleek loafers. As the audience milled about prior to the show, one can take in the visual stimulation as the fashion show itself. However, as the night progressed, style and self-expression would only become stronger, with the artistry and creativity the designers eagerly showcased, and the audience eagerly to consumed.
First on the runway was Yvonne Jewnell NY’s collection; Jewnell aims to “create garments with an ethnically inspired message of overcoming obstacles and revitalizing strength.” Her “use of bold colors, fun prints, nontraditional fabrics and unexpected silhouettes celebrate women of all colors.” The runway show indeed exhibited this vision, as models walked the runway in ethnic prints, bold and contrasting patterns, in unexpected and inspired cuts, which all came alive once in motion on the runway.
Much like the movement and poses of the models, the garments themselves demanded attention. Bright patterns were made even bolder with shoulder-bearing silhouettes on top, and fitted patterns and flattering drapery on the bottom. The models embodied the vibrancy of the collection, walking boldly and “serving looks” that are difficult – and a mistake – to ignore. The audience cheers in appreciation and approval throughout the show for the models’ attitudes and the garments alike.
All the way from India, the House of MM is a more muted and mature collection, especially in contrast to the preceding collection. The models reflected the creative vision of the designer, featuring a wider range of ages and demeanor. Models demurely walked in understated elegance, wearing breathable, layered pieces in pastels and earthy tones. Not without innovative artistry, however, the outer pieces of the collection were draped and tucked in inventive ways, creating silhouettes evoking wearable origami. Details such as buttons and collars were given special treatment on the garments, placed and sewn in quirky ways, making a statement on the garment itself. It was an interesting juxtaposition in terms of energy to the previous show, but another take on showcasing the elements of style in a different and thoughtful way.
Nekolay Designs, in contrast to the mutable and subdued hues of the previous collection, featured bright, bold swimwear, with statement pieces in motion down the runway in confident metallic and flashes of neon and ethnic print. To pull the ensembles together, the collection showcased African-print inspired accessories such as neck rings and head wraps to complete a bright and splashy look. Many ensembles featured a crocheted cover up draped over the model, which only seemed to add to the visual boldness and vibrancy of the swimsuits. The ensembles were visually daring yet accessible, to the point where you can almost hear the designer challenging you to go to the beach or the pool dressed to be noticed as deck candy. The collection went over well with the cheering audience, who seemed willing to take up this summertime challenge.
“Fashion has no walls” said Greta Wallace after showing her latest Simply Greta collection. The collection drew much of its inspiration from Mexico, as well as sourcing the materials for production. Leather and fabrics were sourced from Mexico, lending uptown elegance a distinctive tropical splash. Wallace encouraged the audience to “embrace our neighbors” while praising the warmth and vibrancy of the Mexican people. The collection itself was an evocative mix of uptown elegance and tropical patterns and prints, almost like a tailored and edited vision board inspired by an Andre-Leon-Talley-meets-Frida-Kahlo vibe, come to life. The conscientious creative vision was also reflected in the casting of models, featuring women of all body types, ages and color. Wallace’s creative vision and especially her message of acceptance were enthusiastically received by the audience, with audible reactions of approval.
Following Simply Greta was the House of Thai, a collection featuring ready-to-wear pieces, accessible for the regular citizen, with a flair for bright colors. Though one can see themselves wearing these pieces during the day, they are easily be a “instant 10 compliments a day” piece in your wardrobe. Again, the audience is dared – commanded- to step up their style game on a daily basis, and to dress to express.
The final and crowd-pleasing designer collection to grace the runway was QhakazaMshibe African Accessories, featuring intricate, stunning and handmade pieces by South African designer, Samah Luthuli. The accessories spoke (loudly) for themselves as the models were sparsely-clad in black, allowing the audience to take in the pieces individual visually. Multi-tiered, knotted rope necklaces in bold colors, with intricately woven beads and patterns adorned the models’ necklines, faces and wrists. Much of the audience were particularly thrilled with the presence of half-clad male models on the runway, the only show featuring them. The audience vocally expressed their appreciation for the collection, cheering it on throughout the show, loudly and enthusiastically. The craftsmanship of the pieces were masterfully executed, but the creative vision and display was young, fresh and vibrant, thrilling the audience. At the end of the runway show, the co-host, Tandra Birkett lauded Luthuli, heaping accolades upon the young designer.
Harlem Fashion Week 2019 was a successful event, celebrating style, expression and talent from a diverse pool of designers, with the elegance of the marbled rotunda of the City Museum of New York as a backdrop. The runway was graced by a diverse cast of models, showcasing works of art with messages, whether explicitly articulated or implied. Harlem Fashion Week makes the often inaccessible world of fashion not only inclusive, but encourages the audience to wear their creativity and self-expression on their sleeves, taking inspired pieces to the streets…if you dare.
Expressions of joy, support and messages of global issues were plenty, inspiring creativity within the audience, daring everyone present to boldly express themselves, with personal style as a medium. Unlike NYFW runway shows where elites in the front row golf-clap a well-funded, heavily sponsored runway show, Harlem Fashion Week seemed to have a thread running through-out the energetic, lively and participatory event – a celebration, appreciation and embrace of personal style, inclusivity, and an unapologetic demand to be inspired boldly.
Written by: Milagros Verendia for Harlem One Stop