PFW: Philly Fashion Flex
By Nathalie Cavallo
Photos by Will Stickney
A reporter stands in the glass doorway of Philadelphia’s new Fashion District, and barks at an unassuming security guard dressed in reflective yellow, who blocks the entrance. Past the swinging glass doors is a sign that reads “PFW2019” in life-size, glowing, white letters.
“This is a bad look for you,” said the reporter. “You don’t even have a list of your press representatives?” Her foot taps on the floor impatiently, as she looks around at the other press members who gather in a line behind her.
A PR woman in a plain black dress and heels comes to the rescue: apologizing for the misunderstanding and ushers us into the brand new lobby of the Fashion District Philadelphia. The rest of the press are indifferent to the apparent lack of organization by the Fashion District.
Beyond the glowing letters, a DJ stand is set up in the far corner. A woman tunes a violin. Hardrock Cafe staff scurry from high tops to the bar, making the finishing touches on an elaborate cheese and cracker spread.
It might be amateur hour here at the Fashion District, but there’s also an energy, like a spark close to combustion—the underlying theme of Philly Fashion Week this fall.
The opening event is vibrant: from the floral wall backdrop that beckons designers, visitors, press, photographers, and models, to the violinist-DJ pair who perform covers of upbeat electronic pop. Outfits range from Cheetah print dresses paired with black-feathered neck collars, to baby blue suits with pleather sashes.
All the updos, afros, and leather bucket hats turn when the staff begin to back the audience up toward the perimeter of the room. A hush falls among the crowd as the models strut in and mount the simple white blocks set in rows in the center of the room. They become unmoving, unblinking statues of art as the photographers swarm to take pictures.
Each designer has a model who showcases a taste of what the audience should expect in the days to come.
First in the lineup is a model donning a three-foot bleach blonde Afro wig, a blue-painted face mask, gold swim goggles, a quilted, white Maxi dress with sewn-on hibiscuses, and black pearl gloves.
Liam Bergan, a model whose tattoos are as unique as his clothing, wears an outfit similar to that of a race car driver’s uniform decked out in flamboyant neon orange, with a matching puffer jacket, and hockey-like shin pads with flames.
A favorite look among the crowd is worn by model Ashley Marcial, 19, dressed in black combat boots, leggings, a black sweater, a bedazzled jacket handsewn with white beads in graphic symbols, and ovular, small black sunglasses with a bedazzled frame.
“I love the rockstar beat of the style, which is totally different from the more high-end and luxurious brands represented here tonight,” Marcial said. “I feel like it’s in line with my age group and shares a common goal to be different.”
Marcial is a Temple student, but discovered her passion for fashion at a performing arts high school on Broad Street.
Her designer, Brianna Nicole, only started creating her own pieces this past year. When asked how difficult it would be to get represented as a new designer, eyes sparkling with excitement, Nicole said, “It was super easy to get a pass. I applied and was so surprised I was able to do this.”
Nicole will have 13 models walking for her label, Nicole’s Fury, all provided for her by the Fashion District. For others like her, who try to get their foot in the door, the new and somewhat amateur atmosphere of Philly Fashion Week is exactly what she needs to get exposure.
But that isn’t to say that well-respected and established designers are MIA this Fashion Week.
Humberto Penaloza has been designing clothes for 18 years, and worked in a New York studio for the past 13 years. His style highlights sustainability and plays tribute to his native Mexico. Penaloza is the only Latino designer represented this fall. His show will include 18 models who each have their own specific headdresses.
21-year-old Sensai Mclarin’s blue buzzcut drew us right in, along with the same confident and distinct features that could trick you into mistaking her for one of the models. Mclarin, whose style is influenced by “the crazy kinds” of celebrities, like Lady Gaga, Marilyn Manson, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Prince, is a stylist for designer King Bash, a close friend who personally admired Mclarin’s taste and asked her to collab.
Mclarin, smirking, told us to expect “dominant” clothing, bold colors, and “a lot of skin” on the runway for King Bash this weekend.
Whether through style or music, everyone had something to say during the opener. In her leather leggings and black feather shawl, Alifya Glow could be overlooked as a fashionable guest. But Glow had her own work on display this evening, hosting a provocative violin performance that blended contemporary electronic dance music.
“Today was a cool experience, just to see how amazing our Philly designers are,” Glow, a 31-year-old Temple alumna, said.
She has quite the resume, performing at events like Electric Forest in 2018, New York Fashion Week in 2019, and an upcoming Ferrari event in Los Angeles.
“I was honestly blown away, I didn’t expect [the opening night] to be so diverse, high end, and yet, the streetwear was also awesome,” Glow added.
The night was only a small sample of what’s to come, leaving the crowd wanting more. And while the Fashion District is having its own struggles hosting this week-long event in a new space, there wasn’t any disappointment from the designers, stylists, or attendees this past Monday.
Stay tuned for upcoming recaps of the rest of Philadelphia Fashion Week, brought to you by writers Nathalie Cavallo and Will Stickney.