Adding color and edge to a conservative wardrobe

For five days last week, the buttoned-up Washington crowd changed its normally conservative fashion sense to experience the glitter and glam of Fashion Week.

The shows, one at the World Bank, another at a warehouse on New York Avenue, weren’t entirely about clothes or models. They were also about helping designers in developing countries who are trying to make a living by making clothes, instead of having to beg for money. It was about fair trade. About how the costumer has a choice in helping producers help themselves. It was fashion with a cause.

The clothes, made by designers from Africa, Latin America and Asia, were mostly cotton dresses and tops in pastel colors. There were long, loose dresses that would be perfect for relaxing at home or heading out on a summer night.
During the second part of the show, the dresses got tighter and more low-cut. So perhaps the clothes are not to be worn at a congressional networking dinner. But with appropriate undergarments, these exotic dresses could be worn to an after-work cocktail party.

The executive producer and director for D.C. Fashion Week, Ean Williams, said the clothing is suitable for people on Capitol Hill, although aides and lawmakers might disagree.

“Washingtonians don’t have one outfit during the whole day. They can change clothes three times a day,” Williams said. “You could wear these clothes at a resort, to the opera or theater. Or just to lounge around in the house.”

On the second day of Fashion Week, Betsy Johnson unveiled her spring collection at Club Avenue on New York Avenue. A live band, The Opposite Sex, accompanied the models. Williams walked out on the stage and whipped up the crowd. Then he called for Johnson. The audience, now brimming with expectation, waited for the designer to appear on the stage.

Instead, a young model walked out to the loud rock music, smiling in a pink baby-doll dress typical of the designer. She was followed by models resembling cupcakes in their pink, white and green dresses, with ribbons in their hair. The dresses were feminine in a tasteful way, their high waists giving the illusion of a slim waistline.

Regina Rossi, store manager in the Betsy Johnson shop in Georgetown, recently moved here from the store in Florida. Washington isn’t anything like Florida, she said. “Women in D.C. have to learn how to be more feminine,” Rossi said.

On Saturday night, it was time for the menswear collections at the Holiday Inn near the Smithsonian. With a buffet of cheese, crackers and sandwiches, as well as fruit to dip into a chocolate fountain, guests watched the first menswear-collections show in the history of D.C. Fashion Week. About a dozen designers showed collections.

Vikrum Aiyer, press secretary for Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), came to enjoy the show. “Some of the clothes were cool. I liked the contrasting colors. But a lot of it I wouldn’t wear when I’m working,” Aiyer said. “Some of it was definitely appropriate for the workplace, but some of it is riskier in terms of the color schemes. It’s the individual’s call on how bold they want to go.”

The last clothing line out was Kustom Looks, elegant and classy suits with small details that made them originals. “I have a lot of political and business people buying my suits,” the designer of Kustom Looks, Kwab Asamoah, said.
Fashion Week’s grand finale came in the form of the International Couture Collection, a show held in the freezing French Embassy. As with previous shows, this one was sold out, and bystanders stood to get a view of exquisite dresses and gigantic hats.

Some of the designs were indeed stunning. But not many of the ensembles would fit into any political wardrobe, on or off the Hill.

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