Phoenix Fashion Week 2016 Kicks Off with Lackluster Community Night

Francesca Lake closed out night one of Phoenix Fashion Week 2016.EXPAND
Francesca Lake closed out night one of Phoenix Fashion Week 2016.
Jacob Tyler Dunn

Phoenix Fashion Week 2016 opened at Talking Stick Resort on Thursday, October 13, with community night, an evening of presentations featuring T-shirts promoting charitable organizations, a collaborative collection from student designers, emerging creatives competing to be lifestyle designer of the year, and looks designed by literal children. 

Covered in beadwork and crocheted skirts and several shades of yellow, it was a long slog punctuated by a couple of welcome distractions. One was a dead fly slowly trampled to bits on the south side of the runway over the course of the evening, and the other was an adorable and possibly terrified puppy that I obviously will tell you more about later.

Of course, it wasn't all doldrums. But following up last year's community night presentation — the best opening night Phoenix Fashion Week has ever had in its now nine years — it kicked off the three-day showing on a lackluster note.

SLIDESHOW: See every look from the first night of Phoenix Fashion Week 2016.

Opening the show were looks from Art Institute of Phoenix students who created menswear looks in gray, black, white, and yellow. Each student had the autonomy to create what they wanted, but the ultimate goal was to present a full and connected collection. While there wasn't much tying together the looks apart from the color scheme and the recurrence of above-the-knee shorts, the students showed strong pieces ranging from costumery that would've looked right at home on the set of Star Trek's original series and tailored tunics to perfectly preppy Perry Ellis-esque button-downs. 

Then came a quick, seven-look presentation from Alejandra Inzunza. The Phoenix designer's playful sense of proportion with billowing skirts, harem pants, and an underboob-baring crop top in a simple palette of black and champagne made for the most hyper-focused showing of the evening.
Local morning radio personalities Johnjay and Rich followed up that presentation with a showing of shirts promoting their charitable organization, #LoveUp. Featuring an array of Valley residents, a fireman, a police officer, a recently adopted baby, and a small scraggly dog looking for a permanent home, the showing was engaging, exhibited a real sense of community, and definitely inspired a few whispers of "Oh my god, I love you" to said dog. But it was also the first of three T-shirt presentations of the evening — two of which showcased around 20 looks. 

That's a lot, particularly when the only unifying element of the presentation is a logo. 

Now, here's my million-dollar idea for how Phoenix Fashion Week could make such showings more, well, fashionable: Pair up designers and brands — emerging, established, whatever, local boutiques even — with these T-shirt companies. Because, I get it, the goal here is to support great causes. The connection benefits both parties. T-shirts are easily the most buyable, ready-to-wear item people will see on the runway this week. That's awesome. But why not take it one step further, since the premise of the event is to bridge designers and buyers? 

Following #LoveUp's lengthy showing was a series of presentations at the opposite end of the spectrum: two looks apiece from a group of 11 local "community designers." These quick looks were a great way for these designers to introduce themselves to the Valley's fashion set. But having just two looks also made it apparent in a few cases that not all these designers have crafted a distinct point of view or style. 

Looks from Prodigal Sun Clothing at Phoenix Fashion Week 2016.EXPAND
Looks from Prodigal Sun Clothing at Phoenix Fashion Week 2016.
Jacob Tyler Dunn

But by that same token, some of the creators are still in the learning phase of their fashion careers. The designer behind Kelly Calloway Designs, for instance, is 11 years old. Another, Progidie, is a teenager. That's not to say either looked particularly amateurish. Quite the contrary, these two held their own alongside fellow community designers who showed everything from housecoats and polo shirts to sparkly gold holiday party blouses that everyone's mom owned in the '80s. 

Among the community designers, a few stood out as particularly promising: Prodigal Sun Clothing, with a rockstar aesthetic in black and leather; Sillin Inc., which paired leather and florals with gold hardware; and Bria & Co., with its polos and chinos. Angela Johnson closed out this section of the evening with her signature up-cycled formalwear that featured kittens and unicorns stretched across a ballgown, blazer, and party dress. 

Now was time for another — you guessed it — T-shirt presentation, this time from State Forty Eight, a brand that's had a presence at Fashion Week since winning Emerging Designer of the Year back in 2014. Though the label offers more than just shirts (they've expanded into sweatpants, socks, all manner of loungewear, and accessories), it would've been more visually interesting to see its many looks paired with clothing from another local designer or boutique. 

Post-intermission, this year's lifestyle emerging designers took to the runway. They're competing to be named designer of the year, a title that comes with a prize package valued at $10,000 and for a chance to sell a capsule collection on Evine Live, a television shopping network favored by members of the Real Housewives franchise. 

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First up was Tonalea, Arizona's Marisa Mike, whose dresses blended Pendleton-like fleece fabric bodices with near-sheer skirting. While her gorgeous darts and seam work stood out, the pairing of such a heavy top fabric with a light-as-air skirt was perplexing. Some dresses, made solely with the thick fabric suited to blankets, showed her technical prowess, but failed to move with models, resulting in bunching and limited range of motion. 

Next was Phoenix-based Forgiven Love, the third and final T-shirt showing of the night. Though the brand has a compelling backstory about evolution, love, change, and forgiveness, the designs lacked a visual unity, without a strong color scheme, logo, or defined style. 

Emerging designer Isy B. poses alongside her looks.EXPAND
Emerging designer Isy B. poses alongside her looks.
Jacob Tyler Dunn

Isy B. closed out the emerging designer section with resort wear clearly inspired by the designer's home in the Cayman Islands. Bright coral dresses, sunny yellow cover-ups, and beachy separates made for a colorful, wearable showing that rightfully won her the emerging lifestyle designer of the year award. 

Closing out the evening were a duo of showings from California designers. First was 2015 emerging designer of the year Charmosa, a swimwear label that Fashion Week has now shown three times since the brand first competed in the emerging designer contest of 2014. Charmosa showed bikinis inspired by the designer's Brazilian heritage topped with crocheted skirts with long fringe and her trademark cheeky bottoms. 

FIDM student Francesa Lake debuted a collection inspired by the evolution of a seed into a flower.  In bright white, dusty rose, and buttery yellow, the clothing depicted growth and change through silhouette and structure. It was beautifully executed (save for a few oddly floppy peplum panels), though much of its wearability made for a question mark. 

Not that that's new for Phoenix Fashion Week.

Come back tomorrow for a recap of Phoenix Fashion Week 2016's second night of runway shows.

Looks by Francesca Lake.EXPAND
Looks by Francesca Lake.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
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Talking Stick Resort

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