Angela's Ashes

The party's hot, but the Valley's fashion scene? Not so much

"I'd say that 'SMoCA Nights' is a really important component of what we're trying to accomplish here at the museum," says Susan Krane, the museum's director. "And the fashion component is essential to 'SMoCA Nights.'"

The Thursday-night event, which happens once every three or four months (the next one is scheduled for November), brings together at least a dozen designers who occupy the runway for close to an hour and a half of the night's itinerary.

And it's brought a younger, hipper crowd to the museum.

Angela Johnson, the "mother of Arizona's fashion community," flanked by models Caitlyn (left) and Daynalyn in Johnson originals.
Jeff Newton
Angela Johnson, the "mother of Arizona's fashion community," flanked by models Caitlyn (left) and Daynalyn in Johnson originals.
New York transplant and designer Susan Di Staulo (left) says Angela Johnson "gave me a real reason to live. I'm serious."
Peter Scanlon
New York transplant and designer Susan Di Staulo (left) says Angela Johnson "gave me a real reason to live. I'm serious."

The last "SMoCA Nights" in late June featured local electronic duo Peachcake, a belly-dance troupe, and more than a dozen designers, including new faces like Hector Primero, who has his own line of urban streetwear called Phunknfusion, as well as SMoCA vets, like Susan Di Staulo and Johnson, who showed off a pair of swimsuits to fall in line with the SMoCA theme, "Splash."

Problem is, the designs aren't getting any better, which even Krane admits with hesitation (she offers the caveat that she's not a "fashionista"). "But what we have to remember is that they're emerging artists," Krane says. "It's in the developmental stages. Thanks to Angela, these young designers have a vehicle for exposure. Now we ask them what they need to improve."

What they need, Sarah and Charles Walker say, is to get off the runway, and back in the studio.

"This trend of the fashion show . . . ," Charles says, "they're more for entertainment purposes. These young designers are just looking for every opportunity to get their name out there, and they're not improving."

"With most of these fashion shows, whether they're being organized by LabelHorde or anyone else," Sarah Walker adds, "the designer is being used as a marketing tool. They're being exhausted."

Johnson says that's the message she's been trying to get across for months.

"I've sent e-mails out saying we need to limit the fashion shows, get back and work on your designs," she says. "[LabelHorde] used to do monthly shows because we wanted to help the designers display a full line to a nice, big crowd. But now I'm a big advocate for not having all those little shows. I think they waste everyone's time and energy. It waters down the whole scene."

In any case, the show must go on, apparently -- LabelHorde just sponsored a trunk show at a sub shop in Tempe earlier this week.

Nevertheless, Sarah Walker, whose inventory at Passage includes local tee shirt designs by Soldier Leisure and locally made jewelry, says not carrying Johnson's designs is nothing personal; it's just business.

"Angela was giving me runway pieces," which are quickly made to be worn by size-3 models and aren't very durable, Walker says, "and she was selling at other local boutiques. I want customers to find one-of-a-kind items at Passage. I don't want them to be able to find something here that they could get at a dozen other local boutiques."

Ask Walker if she has anything against Angela Johnson, or if she "hates" her -- as Johnson insists she does -- and the response is akin to, "Angela who?"

"Of course I don't hate Angela Johnson," Walker says, smirking. "I don't even think about Angela Johnson."

Angela Johnson is a fraud. She's also a media whore, a selfish bitch guilty of nepotism, and a shifty prima donna who gets ink in local rags simply by blowing her own horn the loudest.

"That's what people say about me!" Johnson says, giggling so furiously it's a little awkward. "What else can I do? I have to laugh about it because it's all so ridiculous!"

But not entirely. And it's not entirely Johnson's fault.

When asked about Johnson's impact on the local fashion scene, Phoenix Art Museum's fashion curator, Dennita Sewell, struggles to find the right words.

"Well," Sewell pauses, "she certainly has been able to generate a lot of press."

Johnson's been using superlatives like "fashion authority" in LabelHorde press releases since launching the now-defunct magazine nearly two years ago.

She's been known to make a bigger deal of herself -- and her LabelHorde cohorts -- than most feel comfortable with.

For instance, after Arizona Foothills named her "one of Arizona's 20 most successful women" in November 2003, because "she's sort of an innovator," according to Foothills director of communications Christy Shannon, Johnson sent out an e-mail to friends, designers and local media thumping her chest and referring to Foothills as "the Forbes of Arizona!"

In LabelHorde's first issue, unknown local model Summer Clifford was featured in a six-page spread with color photos, an odd choice considering Clifford's lack of experience and status among local models (she hadn't even signed on with a local agency). Clifford also happens to be Johnson's younger half-sister.

Last year, Johnson received the "Rising Star Award" from the Arizona Chapter of Fashion Group International (FGI), an award that was conspicuously announced days before a LabelHorde/FGI-sponsored event. Johnson says there was no heavy-handedness involved -- it was merely a coincidence that FGI honored her at the same time the two organizations were working together.

And in May, in a press release promoting Johnson's first runway show of brand-new designs in almost two years -- "Sideshow Freak in the Padded Room" -- Johnson led off the release by referring to herself as the "mother of Arizona's fashion community," which isn't necessarily untrue (after all, no one else seems willing to claim the title), but a little modesty wouldn't hurt.

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