Between the Coasts

...American fashion beyond New York and L. A.

by Davina Catt
It all started when former White House social secretary, Desiree Rogers, walked into the New York Public Library for the centennial gala in Summer 2011, in a striking and fashion forward, blue and white chiffon dress by LA design duo du jour, Rodarte. Standing well above the rest of the starry crowd, it defined a moment; where not only the now publishing exec claimed leading fashion know how, but her long time friend and dresser, Chicago stylist and clothier, Ikram Goldman, was propelled into an elitist limelight. And fashion in outer New York states arrived.

From its familiar clichés of back yard, outdated fashion, cheap materials and lack of design acumen, where the American fashion tour de force revolved around New York alone, and where any fashionista worth her sort would flock to the capital in a bid to immerse herself into the luxury brand powerhouse, a shift to the landscape has occurred; now it’s a la mode to explore fashion in cities from Chicago, over to Nashville, Detroit and Dallas.

“I’ve been dressing Desiree since young,” admits Goldman. From there, First Lady, Michelle Obama, sought after some “unofficial” style advice. After she was captured in contemporary designer labels, such as Isabel Toledo and Thakoon, all leading ladies wanted to shop at Goldman’s boutique, then located on Rush Street, Chicago. Arguably, Goldman was the trailblazer in changing long-held perceptions that fashion outside of New York couldn’t be contemporary and cutting edge; moreover that top design talent only emerged from New York. Beyond Ikram’s mix of coveted designer labels, and sophisticated women’s wear and accessories, Chicago, now known as ‘the city of neighbourhoods,’ also encompasses everything from unique ethnic stores to trendy boutiques in around 75 mini retail environments, amongst a multitude of events, bazaar’s and pop up stores. It’s a buzzing scene of its own, coming into the modern day, at long last independent from the inextricable ties to the main city. Home to 400 fashion designers and 300 independently owned retail boutiques, Chicago offers a full swing of the pendulum for the consumer base.

Other cities have caught on to the positive and regenerative influence of fashion; Detroit, for example. With its fledgling financial straits, few jobs and failing businesses, insiders have ‘redeployed’ the city’s creative force towards fashion. With a former Project Runway contestant behind the scenes, Detroit launched two fashion weeks; Detroit Fashion Week, a lower level event for young designers and Fashion in Detroit, ‘a high end runway show’, attracting bigger names. Savvy insiders haven’t missed the trick; the pricier the entrance fee, the better the catwalk show. Beyond being a clever marketing ploy, it’s an environment where every fashion niche can seamlessly co-exist.

And locals are staying loyal to their roots; independent designer, Adriana Pavon, has a vision for her start up, Detroit Fashion Collective. The space provides everything from assistance and learning opportunities in sewing, designing, and pattern making, to equipment rental, “Detroit is a town of talent; manufacturing drive and creative vision.” The idea driving DFC is a vision to recast Detroit as a hub for any new designer, while drumming up enough demand to stem the tide of designers moving to established fashion capitals, New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. “The industry is already here if we can just bring the pieces together in one space.”

Linking communities has also been key in the burgeoning Nashville fashion scene. What started as a reignited underground scene, where mostly under-30’s, rebellious females, collected vintage fabric, bric and brac, unexpected materials, and unusual embellishments, and put together micro-mini skirts, clingy jersey knits, and other dark and tormented designs, so offbeat, they not only caught on with the targeted Nashville cool kid market, but attracted young girls around the world obsessed with finding original pieces. Cue the arrival of a Nashville style scene all its own. It’s winning formula? Casual creations, which work from day to night, sold for a third of what you’d expect in LA or New York.
From a design perspective, small cities such as Nashville also offer cheap access to pilfered fabrics and little competition, where designers flocking to New York would find themselves caught up in a game of money and prestige.

Now, Nashville offers a melting pot of emerging, underground and established designers as the trajectory to industry acclaim has been so rapid, the Lexus sponsored Nashville Fashion Week attracted a crowd of press, buyers and celebrities. With 25 designers showing including youngsters Amy B and Julianna Bass, and Versace. With proceeds going to a philanthropic fashion forward fund, organisers have been quick to keep on the supporting and regenerating trail. Nashville fashion sensibility doesn’t aim to be formulaic. It’s working alone through a refreshing mix of hype and creative freedom.

Of course, the Internet and crazed bloggers, have been integral in the rise of these smaller cities in terms of fashion notoriety. Young blog phenomenon Tavi Gevinson put Chicago on the map with her well-voiced sound bites. The rise of street photographers has seen street style in these neighbourhoods given global reach, and social media has enabled the building of a whole new fashion community and a reference point for all to tap into.

Whatever the route to glory, the arrival of such design in smaller cities, accommodating a breadth of sartorial tastes, is driving fashion forward and in so doing gaining its own integrity, as it feels fresh and resonant in a time when many consumers are feeling so disenfranchised.