Chicago’s fashion scene is ready for its close-up. With talent brewing from south side neighborhoods and throughout the city, there are still few African American designers and models who gain their proper recognition.
Nevertheless, these talents won’t go unnoticed for long and one man, whose mission is to bring these emerging designers a local and national presence, is jewelry designer and boutique owner, Fort Smith.
On the afternoon of Sunday August 5, the second Fort Smith Fashion Explosion will take place in the Bronzeville neighborhood at 1007 East 43rd Street.
“This event is to expose some of the small designers to major markets,” states Smith. We are featuring 10 local designers and we’re also going to have two student designers who will receive scholarships and we’re trying to get the student designers to show two pieces so people can see what they do and why we’re giving them the support we’re giving them.”
Here, Smith details his anticipated event and the need for African American resources when it comes to fashion.
DESCRIBE THE FORT SMITH FASHION EXPLOSION:
It was an idea that was created last year and it was designed to give exposure to designers, whether they are clothing designers or accessory designers. After this event is over we are going to develop a not-for-profit and we will eventually be a brick and loiter location that will house up to 30 designers giving them a space to work from and also giving them a retail store to showcase all the designers, which will also generate additional income.
What I have discovered for my designers and for myself… our problem is that we don’t have enough resources available to us that will assist us in our growth. Other nationalities, they have people who will give them financial support or give them a loan when their credit doesn’t look that great, unfortunately that doesn’t happen with us.
So what we’re going to do is develop a building where we can assist designers in becoming national designers. They’ll be establishing work and their goal will be to promote designers and bring them into major markets and help them with manufacturing. So we will be the Calvin Klein’s.
We’re using all local designers. This is designed to promote African American clothing and accessories designers in Chicago because we pretty much go unnoticed in the fashion world and this is really to give us a presence and once the building is finished and functioning it will give us a larger presence.
You’ll also be showcasing student designers. What was the process for finding these students?
We went through the schools to get them. Columbia and Illinois Institute of Art. We looked at their GPA and also had them to write a letter letting us know where they envisioned themselves 10 years after graduating from their school, where they see themselves and what they will create to empower their community. I always believed in not only getting, but giving back also.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE DESIGNERS YOU CHOSE TO FEATURE AT THE FASHION EXPLOSION?
Their clothing and workmanship! The finishing and the details of the clothing; the cut of the clothes. I look for designers who actually know what they’re doing and have the feel for the male or female body like Agricultural (a designer featured in this year’s show). He has a lot of hip hop style but at the same time they have a nice cut and flavor. For instance they have a baggy linen pant for the summer and the pockets are almost down at their ankle, which is … they’re off the chain.
So I look for designers who have that special eye that allows them to create from their brain before they even cut a pattern for a piece.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR JEWELRY COLLECTION, DESIGN AND TECHNIQUE?
I use a lot of very precious stones and I do a lot of wired pieces. Natural woods and my line is a more upscale line, the earrings start at about $36 and can go to about $120. I use a lot of crystals in my designing which just makes it pop.
WHAT DO YOU FEEL SEPARATES THIS FASHION EVENT FROM OTHERS THAT AFRICAN AMERICANS PUT ON IN CHICAGO?
Well, most of the events we use a lot of well-known designers. We don’t seek for the little small designers who are artist as well. And this event is to expose some of the small designers to major markets. Barbara Bates, to me, is a major and national designer. We want to bring that same light to some of our local designers.
And really fashion is just bigger than just a fashion show. The building that we’re going to have …this is going to be done nationally. We don’t have buildings like this for African American designers. We are the people who need it the most.
I supply jewelry for about 15-20 fashion shows a year and even with our models, rather than pull new and fresh models, it’s the same models that have been in for the past 20+ years and it’s really time to refresh and give our younger models an opportunity because they’re not getting that opportunity outside of their home.
Let’s face it; we’re just not really welcomed in the fashion industry. My thing is, when you’re put in a position, you need to make sure that you open some doors for those who follow you. It’s not enough to get it and get yours and then forget about everybody. And I’m older so my time may have passed but there are a lot of younger designers who really could use that support.
Tickets: $45/VIP Seating |$55/Door
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.fortsmithfashionexplosion.com.
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