In the nation's couture capital earlier this month, Teisha Barber realized that Kansas City Fashion Week had arrived.
Barber, executive director of the KC event, was in New York to attend Fashion Week. She says: "I was hearing, 'Oh, we've heard of you guys' and 'You all are doing some fabulous stuff.' "
She credits Midwestern designers, 30 of whom are set to bring their best work to the local five-day fashion marathon. Kansas City Fashion Week returns February 27–March 3 with its 2013 spring showcase. The runway dazzle goes down at 28 Event Space. (See kcfashionweek.com for tickets.)
Here's a look at four Kansas City designers who are putting our city on the fashion map.
Line: Janay A. Handmade
On the runway: 10 a.m. Saturday, March 2
Style: "Clean, modern, feminine bridal"
Favorite materials: Ecofriendly
Design inspiration: Nature, femininity, literature, history
Find it: janay-a.com
Cost: Basic dress, $700–$1,300; designer dress, $1,300–$1,700; couture dress, starts at $1,700; alterations included in dress costs
Hopeless romantics, prepare for Janay Andrews' bridal collection to whisk you away to a place where mad, effortless love swirls with subtle surprises and organic whimsy. You know: the South of France.
Andrews was there to attend a client's wedding when she found inspiration for her runway look. "I'm going for simple elegance," she says. "Like, it's after the party, and you have this beautiful, careless look after dancing in the night."
This is KC Fashion Week's first bridal show, and Andrews — a designer of custom, ecofriendly wedding dresses — is also new to this event. She has been designing since 2005, though, and she plans to move her studio and shop from midtown Kansas City to Mission this spring.
Andrews says her collection this week is a fashion-forward, conceptual take on her typical work. She's elevating her look with chunky jewelry, a bold color palette and texture-heavy pieces. Her clean, focused designs are usually made-to-order, and she loves hidden pockets, colorful tulle, open backs and art-nouveau screen printing. She uses only natural, organic fabrics — often a silk-and-hemp blend. She dyes with tea to turn dresses a champagne color.
"I'm very passionate about sustainability, and I definitely feel like the way you live your life should reflect what you believe," she says. "I want to use my work to make people more aware of their impact on the environment and give people a new perception of natural and organic. Ecofriendly weddings go beyond burlap. I also want to show that bridal does not mean stuffy or homespun. I'm certainly not your grandmother's dressmaker."
On the runway: 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 1
Style: "Cutting edge"
Favorite material: Wool
Design inspiration: Latest trends
Find it: christianmicheal.com
Cost: Vests, $80–$100; pants, $150–$200; jackets, $400–$500
Christian Shuster is chasing a mega break this week.
"I'm looking to attract some capital investors, between Kansas City and Omaha's fashion weeks, that believe in my design sense and will take my label from a boutique design house to a full-fledged wholesale label sold to retailers across the country," he says.
He's aiming to sign with a half-dozen retailers, then team up with a manufacturing house to push out 2,000 pieces this fall.
If that sounds ambitious, consider that Shuster's strategy has gone according to plan so far. Without formal fashion training, he set out to build a label while reading Oscar de la Renta's autobiography, and teaching himself sewing and garment construction. He broke into the menswear scene in 2007 with bold neckties, then expanded to six local retailers and attracted a strong customer base.
Last year, Shuster ramped it up at Fashion Week with an avant-garde collection, and this week he's revealing a collection he calls "modern American sportswear with a classic British fox-hunting twist." The ready-to-wear look recalls Ralph Lauren and features wool, herringbone tweed, corduroy, houndstooth, earth tones, and bright colors mixed with plaid. Items include a quilted hunting jacket and a double-breasted frock coat, and his models will don bow ties, hats, umbrellas and travel bags.
"I'm catering to the style-conscious modern man who likes to look very clean, polished and tailored, and isn't afraid of pushing the envelope," Shuster says.
His plans go beyond this week.
"I was born and raised here and wholeheartedly believe in building in the Midwest," he says. "Instead of transplanting to the coasts and having to look to the coasts for fashion, it's time the coasts start looking to us. And I want to be a part of that."
Line: American Trash
On the runway: 7 p.m. Thursday, February 28
Style: "Rock star"
Favorite materials: Leather, found items
Design inspiration: Music (pop, industrial)
Find it: "American Trash Couture" on Facebook, karmaclothingdesigns.com
Cost: Graphic T-shirts start at $20; handbags and halter tops cost around $100; a couture wedding gown runs $1,500–$15,000.
A design-school instructor once told Karma Jade that she wouldn't amount to anything in the fashion industry. Four years later, Jade's work has been featured in fashion showcases in Chicago and Kansas City, and has dressed musicians such as Halestorm's Lzzy Hale and Red Velvet Crush's Jillian Riscoe.
"I've never been one to let someone's negativism get to me," says Jade, whose ever-changing, Kool-Aid-colored hair and numerous tattoos and piercings add to her own rock chic. "I just stay focused on making everyone feel like a rock star."
Jade (whose real name is Katherine Swanson) takes an unconventional approach to her loud creations. She doesn't do sketches. Instead, she gathers her materials, many of them garbage-bound items, and then lets music dictate her results.
Case in point: her process for KC Fashion Week. She broke down a group of items (including old leather jackets and a purse) into raw material and then waited on a mix from DJ Preston Jeffrey Parsons, known as GENT.
"I put on my headphones and let my subconscious take over," Jade says.
GENT's lively tracks led to pieces that look good on musicians walking the red carpet. The stage pieces, Jade says, look like something out of a Las Vegas show — Cirque du Soleil, perhaps. Her accents include costume jewelry that incorporates crosses and crucifixes. She hopes also to add wings made from guitar strings, sheet metal and copper tubing. (She has a deal with Shawnee's Funky Munky Music: Instead of throwing away the leftovers from restringing instruments, the shop holds them for her.)
"I'm all about making a statement and doing what's best for the environment, and hope I can inspire people along the way," Jade says.
On the runway: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 2
Style: "Classic, sophisticated"
Favorite materials: Lace, double knits, wool tweeds
Design inspiration: Travel
Find it: bmdesignsonline.com
Some Midwest designers might get back from a New York Fashion Week acting all big-time. Not Brittany Davidson.
"To be honest, it made me miss Kansas City Fashion Week, which is so organized and well-run, and the models are all nice and on time," Davidson says a day after returning home from showing her collection at New York Fashion Week for the first time. "I love the support of the fashion community here. Everyone tends to want to see everybody succeed, and that's rare."
Davidson's appreciation of KC doesn't stop her from drawing inspiration from the Big Apple. She began her line in 2009, and she says her latest collection is an ode to New York City's hard streetwear but made with a soft touch. The pieces include a man's motorcycle jacket with unexpected quilted fabric, and a woman's gown that pairs pleated silver material with a train. She'll also present accessories — think crocheted scarves and hats along with necklaces and rings.
Davidson's Fashion Week clothing collection is edgier than her signature look, which centers on European-inspired, wearable items that attract the modern and sophisticated working woman. She says her English heritage and studying in Paris and London have had the heaviest influences on her work, resulting in what she calls a sexy, classy statement.
But her U.S. travels also play into her creations, as does the scene close to home. "I love Kansas City fashion because it's more eclectic than big cities on the coasts," she says. "You get to see it all here, and that's really fun for me."