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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Diversity on Display at Diaspora Fashion Show

Diversity on Display at Diaspora Fashion Show

Models in designs by AkuaGabby at Saturday's Diaspora fashion show

Mark Wallin

Minnesota is a true melting pot, home to a diverse mix of cultures including a robust African-American community, growing Hmong, Somali, and Latino populations, and a strong Native American heritage. At the same time, diversity is something the local fashion scene has been decidedly lacking, at least up until recently. While the annual Hmong fashion show Fresh Traditions has been running since 2007, there have been few, if any, major events that have spotlighted modern African, Native American, and Latino fashions in the Twin Cities (apart from the recent launch of The Dandies Project book earlier this year, which highlighted the wonderfully eclectic styles of Minnesota men of color).

With Diaspora, a new initiative from local creative agency the Retention Strategy, the Twin Cities just might have such a momentous event. According to the agency’s website, “Diaspora is a unique approach to history through the fashion lens”–in other words, exploring how the movement of African populations have influenced other cultures around the world. The resulting fashion lines aimed to both take inspiration from the history of Africa–specifically, its colorful patterns and textured fabrics–while looking to the future, via modern styles and silhouettes.

On that front, the show was largely successful. Much of the ten fashion collections shown on the runway of the Lab Theater on Saturday night embodied this old-meets-new approach. The most polished of the night included Indianapolis-based designer Berny Martin’s line Catou mixed bright colors and dandy details like bowties and hats with traditional menswear shapes for a more playful, eclectic take on GQ style. Also applause-worthy were the collections from AkuaGabby by Minnesota-by-way-of-Ghana designer Jacqueline Addison and Suakoko Betty by Atlanta-by-way-of-Liberia designer Charlene Dunbar. Both celebrated the bold patterns of traditional African textiles by mixing them in unexpected ways in modern silhouettes. Kicking off the show, Addison offered some of the night’s biggest showstoppers, such as a floor-length dress that featured a yoked necklace evocating African neck rings. Dunbar’s collection offered slightly more commercial appeal, juxtaposing bold patterns in a variety of wearable silhouettes.

Hilda Mauya's Dahil Republic of Couture also presented looks that incorporated African textiles, though the rest of her collection–with its inclusion of basic sequin mini dresses and silk and taffeta gowns–lacked a unified feel. Worse, the fabrics used looked cheap and many of the garments did not fit well. Canadian designer Sho Sho Esquiro’s designs were inspired by her Native American roots, including a gorgeous digitally-printed inspired by the colors and patterns of Native American decorative feathers. But despite a few strong pieces, the collection didn’t come together as a whole.

J. Loren by Jason Scott and Harriette Thomas of Atlanta went for an urban safari theme, complete with everything from leather, to vinyl, to fringe, to sheer netting, to feathers. Though there was a cohesive color story and clear aesthetic to the line, it could have used a little editing--one look included one sleeve, feathers, vinyl, leather, and a high slit in the same look. With a few of these elements simplified, it would have been a chicer look. Minnesota designer Bridgette Neal started off strong with a well-constructed peplum top and dress in forest green, but inexplicably went into Ren Fest mode for the third look, ending with an impressively-constructed but ultimately out-of-place bra and skirt made from colorful rope.

The show also served to debut Ámbar, a new Latina-oriented line from Target, as well as Detroit-based brand Golden Hanger by designer Henry Spencer, who showed an edgy, on-trend mix of tanks and sweatshirts for men and women made out of black leather (plain and quilted) plus graphic prints and sheer cutouts. Event sponsors included Vision Model Management–long a champion for diversity in model casting–and the Beauty Lounge.

On the production side, despite the engaging presence of its energetic hosts, Julia Toles, host of Youth Summit Show for KMOJ Radio and columnist for the Minnesota Spokesman Recorder, and Denver-based comedian Shed G, the show was much too long, clocking in at a little over two hours. When you have ten fashion segments of 20 looks a piece that require breaks in between each for model changes, you need to consider editing the show down. By collection number seven, I felt my attention waning. But for a first-time production, the showrunners did an admirable job with such an ambitious project. And despite its shortcomings, it’s great to see such a wide array of diversity on display in the heart of Minneapolis.

Hosts Julia Toles & Shed G

Look by AkuaGabby

Look by AkuaGabby

Look by AkuaGabby

Look by AkuaGabby

Look by Suakoko Betty 

Look by Suakoko Betty 

Look by Suakoko Betty 

Look by Dahil Republic of Couture

Look by Dahil Republic of Couture

Look by Dahil Republic of Couture

Look by Sho Sho Esquiro

Look by Sho Sho Esquiro

Look by Sho Sho Esquiro

Look by Catou

Look by Catou

Look by Catou

Look by Bridgette Neal

Look by Bridgette Neal

Look by Bridgette Neal

Look by J. Loren

Look by J. Loren

Look by J. Loren

Look by Golden Hanger

Look by Golden Hanger

Look by Golden Hanger

The Retention Strategy's Madia Willis, Christopher Webley, and Ashley Johnson

[Photos by Mark Wallin]

Posted on Wednesday, August 20, 2014 in Permalink

Comments may be edited for length, clarity, or appropriateness.

Aug 21, 2014 04:09 pm
 Posted by  Jodi1234

Beautiful!

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