Despite the strong opening, the annual fashion event didn't maintain its stylish momentum throughout the evening, which featured local and national designers, including current Project Runway contestant Bradon McDonald.
The first showing proved to be the most entertaining and well put together, not a surprise given Black's superstar status in Phoenix fashion and his beautifully curated, eponymous Scottsdale boutique. The musical selection of rockabilly and girl group jams set an exciting tone that the clothing selection matched in colorful character. With glitzy greaser looks, sparkly and embroidered suits worthy of The King himself, and impeccable styling, from a box purse covered in landscape imagery to perfectly coiffed throwback hair, Black's show set the bar high.
Unfortunately, it was a little too high for the remainder of the evening's established and emerging designers to clear.
First came the established crew: L.A.-based Shawl Dawls, Black Russian Label, and McDonald.
Both Shawl Dawls and Black Russian Label have shown at past Fashion Weeks as emerging designers; BRL won the title in 2009. The former is, as you might guess, a line of shawls, and the latter is brightly colored women's clothing.
At last year's PFW, Shawl Dawls showed off an impressive line that pushed the boundaries of shawls. This time around, their looks suffered from overly conceptual (and incredibly distracting) styling. All of the models wore a shawl over a skin-tone body stocking and undergarments. If all the shawls had been designed as lingerie pieces, which some seemed to be, this wouldn't have been an issue. But, with some cover-ups resembling bathrobes and snuggies and others draped as dresses, it made for a baffling, cringe-inducing showing. The most shockingly terrible look was a white belted top with a dramatic high-low hem that made it look like catwalk favorite Alexis Hamilton had forgotten to wear pants.
Black Russian presented interesting shapes and well-made designs, but designer Joanna de'Shay's fabric choices distracted from her workmanship.
The recurring use of a leopard print fabric in a snakeskin finish was the number-one offender, detracting from what could've been a lovely maxi skirt and a chic jumpsuit. That's not to mention the designer's penchant for zippers, which while aesthetically fine, seems like a recipe for chafed armpits unlike I've ever imagined (until last night, that is). If de'Shay simplified just a smidge, it would be much easier to appreciate her eye for creative shapes and lines.
When PFW announced that Project Runway contestant Bradon McDonald would show at Talking Stick, I assumed this meant that, regardless of him being so far along in the reality competition, ultimately he must've lost. After his showing last night, it's hard to say. The collection McDonald presented wasn't what he showed at Project Runway's New York Fashion Week events. Instead, it's a collection that he made prior to appearing on the Lifetime show. That explained the disappointment in McDonald's execution of big, beautiful ideas and why the collection didn't look like something that a designer would present as a finale collection on PR. It wasn't. His poufs and slithering details were beautiful, nonetheless. And the antique teal dress with tiny, delicate pleats was an easy favorite.
Then there were the emerging designers, a group hand-picked from a multi-city search. These designers are competing to have their brands launched. They have completed training sessions and engaged in mentorships with Brian Hill, Phoenix Fashion Week's executive director.
The group is a confusingly mixed bunch that includes designers who specialize in ready-to-wear apparel, menswear, T-shirts and accessories, and swimwear.
Dolcessa is a swimwear brand that seems completely out of place in this competition. As the brand's intro video showed, Kate Upton wore a Dolcessa bikini on her famed Antarctica Sports Illustrated cover. This begs a few questions. Why is this brand showing alongside others that are nowhere near as advanced? Why would Dolcessa be considered "emerging"? Answer: I have no idea. However, the swimsuits were stylish and received a warm reception, although they should've been included in the established designer portion of the evening.
In contrast to the well-developed brand Dolcessa, Linden looked like it could've used a little more direction. Designer Jennifer Lynn's chambray day dresses and rompers were delightful. But juxtaposing those styles with a harsh black-and-white palate and a plaid pattern in Lisa Frank brights made for a disjointed show.
Lion Cloth followed up with men's button-downs and shorts in contrasting fabrics. This brand succeeded most when it pushed beyond its go-to look of a shirt with bright buttons and a color-pop pocket. A short-sleeve button-down in a blue and red dog pattern closed Loin Cloth's show and left me wondering why the two-man design team hadn't pushed each look that far.
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Phoenix's own Medium Apparel closed the evening with its hip-hop influenced streetwear. (Medium is owned by former New Times assistant art director Zac McDonald.) While the brand undoubtedly is primed for success, whether it belongs at Fashion Week is another matter. Yes, the shirts look good. Yes, they were presented professionally and well-styled. Yes, they've been recognized nationally. But when some of the emerging designers are creating head-to-toe ensembles and others are making T-shirts (and a few button-downs), there's no way they're competing on the same level.
The competition needs some retooling. It's clearly such a catchall for designs and types of brands that it's hard to understand why these designers were chosen to go head-to-head. And it makes for an equally perplexing combination of runway shows.