Now in the fourth show since its 2017 reboot, Northwest Arkansas Fashion Week is really starting to hit its stride, says CEO Robin Atkinson. And producing two shows a year has given her a lot of practice.
"We've got the hang of producing fashion shows down pat," she says. "Now, what we're trying to do is to make the experience different enough that, if you went to the spring show, you're not saying, 'Well, I don't need to go to the fall show, because I went to the spring show.'"
NWA Fashion Week Schedule of Events
4500 S. School Ave., Fayetteville
All main events begin at 7:15 p.m.
Sept. 20 — The Idle Class Black Apple Awards
• 2017 Black Apple Award winning fashion designer Rosie Rose
• Musical guests
• Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese Designer Showcase
— AAFF Student Designer Showcase
• Dasia Rose (Arkansas Fashion School)
• Robbie’s Era (Arkansas Fashion School)
• SkyBlue by Abby Alba (Arkansas Fashion School)
• Sara Wilson (University of Arkansas AMPD)
• Jam (University of Arkansas AMPD)
• Cottonistas (University of Arkansas AMPD)
Sept. 21 — Runway Shows
• A. Brook’s Designs and Apparel
• Exclusive Company
• MarleyMack Unique Boutique and Gifts
• Felix Bui
• Don Morphy
• Elizabeth Koerner
• Fox Trot Boutique
• Damned 2 Divine
• Hubbard Clothing Co.
• INKJNK ft. Gean Lee
Sept. 22 — Runway Shows
• Richie Clark Clothing
• Herron Hats
• A’Lyece Lenae Designs
• Hubbard Clothing Co.
• RGene featuring O’Faolain
• 22nd Element Clothing and Accessories
• Lorto Momolu
Part of distinguishing the two shows per year is giving each its own, specific vibe, based on which NWA-area town is hosting it.
"As we grow, the idea is to differentiate them enough so that we're catering to different audiences," says Atkinson. The spring show is produced in Bentonville. "With Fayetteville, we can think outside the box a little bit, focus more on education, focus a little bit on college students. We've got some vendors who are specifically gearing towards the university, and one of the shows is using the pom squad as [its] models. Fayetteville is a little more funky: They want art, they want music."
And what the audience wants, Atkinson and her team want to give.
"The organization is so fresh and new, and we're really nimble," she says. "If someone pitches a great idea to us, we're still in a new enough place as an organization that we can say, 'OK, how do we make it happen?'"
Case in point: When Bike Rack Records, a local recording studio run by area musicians-turned-engineers, approached Atkinson about the possibility of providing live music at her event, she leapt at the idea.
"We decided, since we're going all out this season, we might as well have live music instead of boring intermissions where we show you commercials and you go and get drinks," she says. "That's something we can try out at Drake Field, because there's so much room there -- 16,000 square feet. The biggest venue in Arkansas, if you're not talking about stadiums."
Other new facets of the production Atkinson is excited about are the Student Designer Showcase -- which will give fashion design students from around the state the opportunity to take the runway with their designs -- and the Black Apple Awards, a series of awards that honor area artists, musicians and performers. This year will also feature a fashion show produced by the Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese.
"In lots of ways, it's a celebration of creative talent across the state."
Over 20 designers will be represented in fall's NWA Fashion Week. Here, three of those talents share their excitment for the coming show.
"I started sewing when I was around 4 or 5," says Ashley Little, who will mark her sixth show with NWA Fashion Week on Sept. 22. "My mom taught me and all of my sisters. I can't even remember not knowing how to sew, to some extent." When her mother passed away from cancer when Little was 14, sewing took on even more importance in her life. "It really turned into a kind of legacy. I do have a passion for it, but that pushed me even further." Little's fashion line, Ellen Elaine, was created by combining her and her mother's middle names.
Little went on to teach sewing at the university level -- receiving a master's in apparel design -- and opened Material Concepts, at 130 N. College Ave. in Fayetteville, where one can see original work by Little and other Northwest Arkansas-area designers.
"NWA Fashion Week, for me, has given me the opportunity to design -- meaning, while I love to design, if I don't have a place to showcase it, I don't prioritize designing," she explains. "I have work and alterations and clients, and that's what pays the bills. But NWA Fashion Week gives me an opportunity to both create and showcase my designs, to justify the time and money that it takes to do it. It helps me creatively, to become aware of my aesthetic as a designer and who I am as a designer."
Little says her fall show will feature mostly formal wear, "to showcase for the fall formals coming up."
"My design aesthetic is classic, timeless, slightly sophisticated, with a rock edge -- I always say, if Jackie Kennedy or Audrey Hepburn were going to a Jimi Hendrix concert, they would wear my clothes."
(Rosie Rose Designs)
"I had been doing design for a while before [my first show with NWA Fashion Week], but I didn't really have a venue to show in," says Rosie Rose, whose designs will march down the catwalk Sept. 20 -- her fourth show with the organization. "I had an online presence, and that's where most of my customer base was -- people I had met through my Etsy shop. I had customers from all over the world, but no local following. So it was this amazing thing when Fashion Week started back up, and suddenly I had this opportunity to reach more people. I've gotten a lot of new, local customers from it."
Rose says when she apprenticed with a designer in Eureka Springs, the world of fashion opened up to her.
"Sometimes, you're an artist, and you have an idea but can't make it come out the way you want it to. Finally, I got training, and could make anything I wanted."
Rose's fashion shows are always themed and, this fall, she's focusing on outer space.
"There's a lot of sequins and silver and gold," she says. "Lots of retro-futuristic styled stuff. I always try to do things in an eco-friendly way, and, this time, a lot of the fabrics I'm using are organic -- cotton, linen or upcycled fabrics, where I have taken something that no one else wanted and turned it into something cool."
Also cool: Rose says she's taken pains to make her fashion relatable and accessible to all.
"One of the things that I'm excited about is I have five drag queens who will be walking in my show, and I have a transgender model," she illustrates. "In the models that I've cast, I try to get a lot of diversity in the group -- there are plus-sizes, and all kinds of ethnicities. Hopefully, everyone will see themselves represented there. I want it to be appealing to everyone. And all of the women's clothing has pockets -- even the evening gowns have hidden pockets."
Richard Cotto came to fashion by way of civil engineering.
"I finished two years [of school] and thought, 'This is not for me,'" he says. "So I came back home for medical reasons and thought, 'I'm going to follow my dreams.' And I started sewing."
He first found success through a line of canine clothing.
"Sometimes, people say, 'How did you make a living out of that?' And I always say, 'You would be surprised at how much people will pay for dog attire.'"
Cotto proved to be just as talented at designing clothing for people -- he's shown at fashion week in New York, Chicago, Miami and St. Louis, just to name a few. Despite his big city expertise, he says the quality of the NWA Fashion Week took him by surprise.
"The quality of this event is rewarding and shocking, all at the same time," he muses. "I was surprised at what Robin was able to do. I wasn't expecting that."
Cotto's designs will take the stage Sept. 22, the fourth season he's showed at NWA Fashion Week.
"I set out with one message, and it's that clothing should not have a gender," he explains of his style. "In this season's collection, I'm going to show color, which is really unusual for me. I usually stick to black and white and gray and maybe a little bit of blue. But this time, it looks like fall exploded. Part of this journey of self-discovery was reconnecting with the earth; it's more of a spiritual connection to the elements."
NAN What's Up on 09/16/2018
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