West 18th Street Fashion Show organizers were a few hours and drinks deep into a conversation when their focus turned to wealth distribution. "We began speaking about how most of the money in America is in the hands of just a few families," says Peregrine Honig, the event's artistic director.
That night last fall, the team landed on 2013's show theme: Gilded Summer. It's a play on the Gilded Age — the label that writers Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner gave to the late 1800s and early 1900s in their The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. The authors' satire paints the post–Civil War era — a time marked by booming wealth and the subsequent growing disparity between rich and poor — as a time of grave social problems veiled in gold.
"In a way," Honig says, "we are now living in a Gilded Age."
Beyond economic issues, though, Honig points out that it was an era when World's Fairs captivated the nation, seeing a movie at a nickelodeon was novel, and artisanal industry thrived.
And whereas last year's Triple Crown Summer theme resulted in a show that was largely feminine, Honig says, the upcoming show lends itself to masculinity. And the timing is good, with buzz still surrounding Baz Luhrmann's movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby, which is a Gilded Age unto itself. "We had no idea this movie was coming out when we came up with the theme," Honig says. "It's nice when something comes out in pop culture that makes our idea relevant."
The annual show, set for Saturday, June 8, once again transforms 18th Street in Kansas City's Crossroads into an outdoor couture showcase at dusk. Organizers have narrowed down dozens of designer applicants to 18 collection designers and eight accessories designers, with the goal of showcasing emerging talent. Here's a preview of five designers new to the show who help make the lineup, as Honig says, one of the most sophisticated yet.
Silvia Patricia isn't out to make models look pretty.
The Johnson County Community College fashion-design student brings what she calls "the raw, the ugly, and the brutal truth of severe workmanship." This means she'll use upholstery fabric, restricted and crisp looks, and raw metal (she's working closely with a welder) to tell a story she views as a harsh reality.
Her collection seeks to link today's social issues with those from the turn of the 19th century. You'll see: an elegantly dressed woman with a cage piece around her neck, an expression of upper-class decadence; a middle-class woman donning a well-tailored look; and a haggard man who represents what Patricia calls "the new American slave." You'll also see a woman with a wired-shut mouth, a reflection of how Patricia sees the typical American. "We like to think that with each generation, the world is a better place," she says. "But we're still not free to speak our minds. If you say the wrong thing in the workplace, you'll be terminated."
Patricia, who moved here from Chihuahua, Mexico, when she was 5 years old, has always had a flair for the avant-garde. After JCCC, she hopes to attend fashion school out of state. She has her eye on Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle.
She aspires to dress movie casts. Working with Tim Burton, especially if it meant Johnny Depp and outlandish characters like Edward Scissorhands and the Mad Hatter, would be a dream come true. "I'm all about taking a character and going to great lengths to express that individual," she says.
When Lyndsey Helling made the designer cut, she headed to TCBY and asked for the trash. She prefers recycled materials and was craving the ice cream cups' cheerful colors and shapes.