It’s no secret: Asheville is a town that moves to its own beat, from music and art to food and fashion. But just because we have our own sense of style doesn’t necessarily mean we’re not in touch with what’s happening, style-wise, in the rest of the world. Instead, Asheville residents tend to interpret fashion and trends, from runways and magazines to street style and what boutiques stock, through a distinctly WNC filter.
Here, three locals, each working in different fashion-oriented fields, weigh in on local looks, trends and styles.
Owner of Minx boutique
If you’ve lived in Asheville for less than a decade, you can’t remember a time without Minx. If you’ve lived here longer than 10 years, you probably wonder, what did I wear before then? Not that there weren’t great boutiques (The Open Door and Ad Lib are staples), but Minx has become such a go-to for so many local women. The Lexington Avenue shop, opened by Rebeccah Mark and Jessica Brommer in 2002, offers an impeccably edited selection of quality, wearable, on-trend apparel at affordable prices.
Mark, who still owns and buys for the boutique, interprets trends (like color blocking in suiting) with an eye for local sensibilities. “In Asheville, I feel like there is more practicality to the environment,” she says. “When we’re choosing and relating to the customer, we might bring in a trouser in the color blocking, but not the whole shebang. Rather then a red suit pant, we’d do a red denim.” The same is true for shoes: Minx loves the trend in color, but expect a wedge or something more walkable, rather than a high heel which doesn’t work on Asheville’s hills.
Denim, plaids, oxfords, sturdy lace-up boots, button-up shirts and blazers are classics that are also currently trendy and also work well with the menswear-as-womenswear that suits the Asheville aesthetic. “There’s an element of fashion, but also a practicality, and I see those two things merge,” says Mark.
Along with practicality comes budget-mindedness. Asheville shoppers are less concerned with luxury labels — “We don’t have a designer shoe rentals here,” says Mark. “And that’s what I like about it here, because none of that stuff means anything.”
Luckily, accessibility has affected price point. “You find lower end lines and things that are more affordable being more contemporary and fashion-relevant,” she says. “But you’ve got to look harder for the less expensive stuff.” That’s exactly what Mark does, seeking out emerging designers whose work is more affordable, which adds up to a lot of work and a lot of trave (even a recent trip to France, to visit family, turned up a new jewelry designer whose work Minx will carry).
“I’m trying to find the best prices and the best quality, and then trend.” she says. “Cheap and cheerful.”
Ultimately, Marks’ vision for Minx is that the boutique will offer apparel and accessories that are available to everybody. Media such as fashion blogs and Facebook have changed the accessibility of fashion in the last decade, says Mark. “People are much more savvy. It’s about exposure. But at the end of the day, fashion is just a way to express yourself that’s really fun.”
James Warrick grew up in Western N.C., but his career as a photographer began in Miami. Warrick was in advertising at the time; a photographer friend of his invited him along on a trip to Florida. There, Warrick picked up a camera and had an epiphany.
Miami, he says, is “a good testing ground to start your career.” But what makes the tropical city so perfect for camera work (the quality of the light, warm winter weather) is what also makes it the perfect destination for photographers from other cities and countries. Magazines and campaigns fly their photographers to Miami for editorial work. According to Warrick, the miami-based work for resident photographers was “mainly catalog stuff.”
He moved to New York, pursuing work — both professionally and creatively — in the fashion industry. Because of the northern climate, most work was in studios, says Warrick, and geared toward high fashion.
Family obligations brought Warrick back to Asheville a couple of years ago, and he’s recently begun carving out a niche as a local photographer. In April he had a fashion photography exhibit at West One Salon and early this month his exhibit in the gallery space next to 5 Walnut opened. He’s also shooting a look book for Daniella Miller, owner of Royal Peasantry. “I’m still discovering what it means to shoot fashion in Asheville,” he says. Where Miami is about color and Latin-inspired apparel, and New York is about high fashion, “what’s fashionable here,” says Warrick, “is more yoga-esque and athletic, and then vintage, and then street grunge, almost like Seattle.”
Even though the local fashion scene is burgeoning rather than established, Warrick sees the potential. “The variety you can shoot here is tremendous,” he says. “There’s architecture and you can be out in nature. As far as the fashion part of it, you have to create it.”
And: “It’s not like New York where you have to compete. Here, you can collaborate.” In fact, collaborations are key. Warrick and other local photographers have organized a collective to support each others’ work and to create new platforms for both fashion and photography. One idea in the works is a day of fashion which will bring together boutiques, designers, models, and of course the people behind the camera.
Creator of PushAshevilleFashion.org and the PUSH fashion shows, journalism student and intern with Wrangler and Justin Boots
Style in Asheville is about “eco-fashion and sustainability,” says Sonia Hendrix. She’s been sending local looks down runways for several years now, starting with the inaugural PUSH Asheville Fashion show, held at The Garage at Biltmore in 2009. Hendrix also organized a fashion show during a 2010 Fourth of July Celebration, a large-scale runway show and multi-media event at the Orange Peel the same year and she helmed the fashion discipline during HATCH Asheville last spring. Her pushashevillefashion.org website hosts video interviews with local boutiques and designers and jewelers.
Because she’s been in college in Chapel Hill, Hendrix has lately had her eye on that fashion scene (especially on campus), but she makes her way back to the Asheville area, where she grew up, regularly. When asked what national trends have found their way to Asheville’s shops and streets, Hendrix says, “lots of white, lots of pastel but also black lace and anything sheer.”
This spring, Hendrix spoke at Columbia Style Week and attended Charleston Fashion Week (where Brooklyn-based designer Adrienne Antonson, who previously lived in Asheville, won the people’s choice award), and notes that “sheer black lace tops and a neon bra underneath” were everywhere. Trendy guys were pairing “canary yellow or baby blue blazers with denim underneath.”
On campus in Chapel Hill she’s seeing lots of denim and lots of combat-style boots, unlaced. Her prediction: “Tribal patterns are on the way out.”
As for Asheville, “eco-fashion is only going to get bigger and better,” she says. “When I come back, that’s something I’m really going to be working to bring to a national spotlight. It’s a niche market here, and Asheville is in a great spot to represent eco-fashion because of our community.”
There are already local designers taking the upcycled aesthetic to a national platform: Miller, of Royal Peasantry, had a booth at Charleston Fashion Week’s style lounge where she garnered positive attention. “All she has to do is apply to Charleston Fashion Week and she’ll be in it,” Hendrix says — which means hopefully Miller’s apparel and accessories will be making their way down the runway in S.C. next year.
Hendrix also keeps up-to-date with high fashion by live-tweeting New York’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. She says that “I don’t believe Asheville is in sync with New York fashion week,” but there are some parallels. Such as, “there are florals in both worlds. The modern and the funky.”
It stands to reason that Asheville’s take on that omnipotent spring trend edges toward the funky. No problem with that. Hendrix paraphrases HATCH mentor and Charleston Fashion Week founder Ayoka Lucas: “Her spiel with trends is, know what they are, but don’t live and die by trends,” says Hendrix. “Know what the companies are selling, but do what you want to do.”
— Alli Marshall can be reached at email@example.com.