If fashion is a reflection of culture, it’s no surprise that Asheville designers have a point of view that reflects the values of this small mountain city. Sarah Merrell, community director for Asheville Fashion Week and public relations director for Gage Talent, has been involved in fashion weeks in a number of cities across the Southeast. “In Asheville, you see a lot of upcycled fashion, designs made from organic materials and designs that are wearable works of art,” she says. “Asheville’s distinct fashion is something that sets the city apart.”
Asheville Fashion Week, now in its second year, seeks to raise awareness of the local apparel and design scene. The event features more than 100 models and showcases the talents of over a dozen designers. Festivities include four nights of shows from Wednesday, Aug. 3, to Saturday, Aug. 6. Productions include the kickoff, an emerging model runway event, ready-to-wear, swimwear, men’s apparel, a platform for emerging designers and the grand finale runway show. Tickets are sold on a per-day basis.
All events are open to the public. Along with fans of local style, boutique and retail owners also attend the shows to select designs to carry at their locations. Merrell says designers also benefit from the professional photos of their work — captured by an army of photographers at the shows — and the opportunity to network with models. “[Asheville Fashion Week] provides a relevant outlet for the thriving fashion community in the area,” she says. “It also provides designers and models with the opportunity to showcase their work in front of larger audiences with a high-production value.”
According to Merrell, several designers, including Angela Kim Designs and Tricia Ellis, launched their lines at last year’s fashion week. Ellis has gone on to show her work in other fashion shows, including Color Me Goodwill, Condom Couture, the Faerie Fashion Show and Werk the Runway. Ellis was also the winning overall designer for Asheville’s 2016 Costume Drama: A Fashion Show. Kim has gone on to show her designs at fashion weeks in Knoxville and Charlotte; she has been selected as a finalist in Belk’s Southern Designer Showcase; and her clothes are available for purchase in Boutique LP in downtown Asheville. In this way, Merrell says the event can be an effective launching pad for designers — and models — looking to get more recognition in the industry.
“One of the wonderful things we learned last year is how incredibly talented the designers are in Asheville,” says Merrell. “Many of the designs were breathtaking. We’re thrilled to have a handful of the designers back for our second year, but we’re also excited for the new designers we have on board.”
Certainly, getting their names out is a motivating factor for apparel artists. Designer McKinney Gough says she plans to show a line inspired by “back-to-school color schemes in a rockabilly, DIY fashion.” The majority of her line is made from upcycled and repurposed linens. “I am participating in Asheville Fashion Week in an effort to grow my brand commercially and to draw attention to the unique fashion scene Asheville is famous for,” says Gough.
Kristin Tidwell, who will reveal her Be Well Couture collection on Saturday, was drawn to the event for its collaborative aspect. “Asheville’s creative community is incredible,” she says. “[There are] so many stories and projects being told. I am a bit of an introvert, and Asheville Fashion Week is an opportunity to express my creativity in a supportive community.”
Rachel Weisberg will reveal a capsule collection for fall featuring her hand-dyed designs. “Asheville is known for its individuality and artsy spirit,” she says. “It is important for Asheville to have a fashion week because it is a channel that allows local artists to showcase their original work and love for design, reflecting the people and creative souls of the city we live in.”
The designers taking part in this year’s events cover a wide range of aesthetics, from couture gowns to swimwear to ready-to-wear street style. Merrell points to Gough’s upcycled designs, Weisberg’s collection of hand-dyed and handmade pieces, and Simone Bernhard’s fascinator hair clips and hats as prime examples of lines that reflect the Asheville lifestyle and point of view.
“It’s exciting to see the designs and models on our stunning grand finale runway,” she says. “Gage Models and Talent Agency sponsors and hosts Asheville Fashion Week and does an amazing job with the runway, staging, sound and lighting. It creates a wow factor when our models hit the runway.”
WHAT: Asheville Fashion Week
WHERE: Altamont Theatre, 18 Church St. Other locations TBA
WHEN: Wednesday, Aug. 3 to Saturday, Aug. 6. Full schedule at ashevillefashionweekusa.com. $45 general admission/$75 VIP