Local Love: CMH Fashion Week Runway Shows

If there were any doubts about Columbus' recent emergence as the fashion mecca of the Midwest, this past weekend's runway shows sealed the deal. CMH Fashion Week 2013, the official fashion week of Columbus, wrapped up with two spectacular events, Friday night's Bridal Show and Saturday night's Finale Runway Show- both impressive productions highlighting the best-of-the-best in local fashion talent. Here's a recap of my time at the shows:

CMH Fashion Week First Annual Bridal Show

As a somewhat-newly-engaged woman with a slew of married friends, I'm no stranger to bridal events. So with a somewhat established expertise on the genre, I feel qualified to tell you that the CMH Fashion Week First Annual Bridal Show is not your typical bridal experience. For starters, the Grand Ballroom of the Sheraton on Capitol Square in downtown Columbus provided a posh backdrop for the event (not exactly the expo center, if you catch my drift). Cocktail hour featured live-mannequin models for an up-close peak at dress details, jewelry, and hairstyles. Two accessory standouts were the gorgeous floral crowns from Rose Bredl and the brooch bouquet from The Ritzy Rose, who you may already be familiar with, as they also designed the vintage brooch bouquet for Miranda Lambert's 2011 wedding. Kasey Skobel-Conyers of Bliss Event Design transformed the space into an elegant, romantic backdrop for the show, setting the perfect mood for chic brides-to-be. Cake designs and tastings were available from world-renowned Martha Stewart cake designer, Wendy Kromer, and local designers, Sue Larson of La Gateau and Jan Kisch of La Petite Fleur. Papel Couture provided stunning laser-cut paper backdrops as well as the beautiful cut-paper lace programs.

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CMH Fashion Week Fourth Annual Finale Runway Show

Columbus Fashion Week capped off with it's Fourth Annual Finale Runway Show and the fashion set of the city came out to see the sold out show. The view from the tent on COSI's lawn was a glittering sight as the downtown lights bounced off the riverfront. The perfect fall weather gave a sense of ease as guests settled into their seats. The show was kicked off by a choreographed performance by Dance614, who brought a mix of ballet and hip-hop to the stage. 10TV news anchor, Angela An, was the host for the fourth year in a row and she and Mayor Coleman got the crowd ready for the line up of 12 local designers along with headliner, Nary Manivong.

First on the program was Rachel Kaplan, a 22-year-old CCAD graduate and Abercrombie & Fitch designer. Her collection, RachelLynn, focused on clean lines with a modern, feminine twist. The black and white collection, inspired by Rorschach's inkblots, struck the perfect balance of edge and fluidity. My personal favorite from her collection were the silky shorts, which added a retro romantic touch to some of the harder lined silhouettes, and the inkblot prints, like this jacket and skirt below.

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Lubna Najjar of Lubna Designs noted that this collection was for the girl who turns heads, and her bold, body-conscious showing on the runway backed that statement up. Jordanian-born Najjar references a sense of Middle Eastern cultural formality and notes the woman's body as main source of inspiration. With a focus on dark formality, long, liquid jersey gowns sauntered down the catwalk, proving that this collection has all the sensuality and flair to indeed "turn heads." A real standout for me was the fur-lined gown seen below.

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Shape and texture headlined at Azmara Asefa, which makes perfect sense when you consider the fact that Asefa is also an architectural designer. Her Wearable Environments II collection set out to fuse the fashion and architectural worlds through experimental materials, such as wood veneer, tyvek, and felt. Some standouts of the collection included her sari-esque printed shorts and crop top, as well as an elaborate tessellated cutwork gown.

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Makayla Cook and Olivia Vanscoyoc of Dirty Laser were the first of the evening to feature menswear into their collection. As their name suggests, Dirty Laser's collection was young, edgy and boasted an in-your-face sexuality with short shorts, thigh-high stockings, and high heels. While the overall look was scantily-clad, the collection also offered up slouchy knits and oversized tops, including my favorite piece, an expertly-draped jacket with feminine curvy lines.

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Next up was the all-menswear collection by Damien Sheppard, who classifies his brand as urban sophistication for young professionals. This collection, it should be noted, is also for the man who cares a lot about fashion and standing out from the crowd. Athletic-inspired jackets in bold prints, such as large-scale floral and multi-colored chevron, gave a retro 80s vibe. My favorite look of the collection was this multi-colored zebra print top with crisp white pants.

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Olivia Brezinski, a 22-year-old recent graduate of CCAD, brought an edgy and sophisticated aesthetic with a collection of dark leathers and feathers. Each piece was high drama and, in my imagination, was designed for the girl that would be named queen of the goth anti-prom. The dark palette kept the feathered pieces chic and the structured, minimalistic quality of the leather pieces kept them looking refined. This head-turning crop top and feather skirt seemed so current and was a standout favorite of mine.

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Among a sea of mostly black, Kassie Haji's sunny collection was a surprise kick of firy prints and colors. At only 24, Haji, a native of northern Iraq, has already established a point of view that is all her own. Bold outerwear and flowing, wrapped-waist silhouettes evoked the fun sophistication of a sexy 70s spy movie. A crowd favorite was this sunny yellow peacoat with a curvy, feminine shape.

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And then there was punk. Ray Marsh, a Kent State graduate, merged music and fashion in a rock-infused collection featuring the usual punk elements of plaid and metal embellishments, but in a modern, elevated form. While the standbys were present, unexpected silhouettes like this low cut jumpsuit kept the collection looking modern. A personal favorite of mine was the exposed-zipper embellished shorts, which were decorated with buttons and safety pins in essential punk style.

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Marquis Engel, the man behind Popular Culture, made his CMH Fashion Week debut this year, but you never would have known it from the crowd. His menswear collection was entertaining to say the least, with an array of Technicolor comic book prints and models walking the runway with smoke bombs in hand, making the tent look and smell like the Fourth of July. When Engel himself walked down, looking like a modern day Jimi Hendrix, waving an American flag, the audience exploded, eating up the theatrics. But that's not to say the clothes didn't deserve the applause- his bold prints and use of bright whites offered a unique, boundary-pushing alternative to standard menswear.

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And after the parade that was Engel's collections, the show was brought back to it's dark and sexy theme of the night with Erica Woodmore's sophisticated and sultry collection. With her all-black show, Woodmore managed to perfectly maintain that delicate balance between siren-level sex appeal and demure mystery. Elements such as structured leather, fringe, feathers, and bling were reigned in by some of the more modest pieces, keeping the taste level high. Woodmore does sexy, but she does it in the way that women want- bold, classy, and full of strength. My favorite pieces in her collection were the intricate lace-embellished jacket and the perfectly shaped corset tops.

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Eugene Frimpong, of St. Frimpong, employed a mixture of African and Western culture with a heavy dose of glam for a confident and edgy collection. With a tight palette of black, silver, blue and purple, the Ziggy Stardust effect was present, but it didn't overwhelm the collection. Frimpong managed to keep it elegant and modern with well-tailored pieces like the seemingly-perfect trouser and an amazing finale gown that looked like it was made of large leather pailettes.

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And the last of the local talent was Genoveva Christoff. Her chic and sexy collection read like a collage of all those amazing 90s styles icons that I wanted so badly to be, but was overall too suburban and, well, too 3rd-grade to emulate. From the beautiful fitted silky print dresses that screamed Beverly Hills, 90210, to the black leather and lace odes to goth-grunge mavens, her looks showed a full spectrum of the 90s-obsessed wave that fashion has been riding. The patterned silk crop top and the perfectly-shaped leather pants was a knockout combination in my book.

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While I was blown away by the talent of the local designers, the night took a noticeable turn with headliner Nary Manivong's collection. The Laotian-American designer is a Columbus native who now runs the Nary Manivong label in New York City. Taking a departure from the mostly dark and blatantly sexy collections that preceded him, Manivong presented a light an airy runway show that showcased sexuality and femininity in an understated and modest way. Reminiscent of WWII women, the runway was flooded with mid-century silhouettes in a light color palette that consisted of a range of beautiful sky hues, as if the audience was given an all-access pass to his personal daydreams. Even the darker pieces of the collection seemed light enough to float. The construction was impressive, especially in the bevy of pleated pieces and the near perfect drop waist floral dress that was somehow unlike anything I've seen before. With a strong point of view and a seamless collection, it's no wonder that Manivong's designs have earned him acclaim, including being named a designer to watch by Women's Wear Daily and a two-time nomination by Fashion Group International for the Rising Star Women's Ready-to-Wear Award in 2009 and 2010. You can see more of Manivong and his aesthetic in the highly touted film documentary, "DRESSED," which chronicles his rise from homelessness to success in the fashion industry.

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And with that, the 2013 CMH Fashion Week festivities came to a close. (Well, besides the after party, of course.) The air around the Fourth Annual Finale Runway show was one of growth and optimism, leaving me with a sense of excitement. I can't wait to see how fashion in Columbus will continue to grow in years to come!

 All photos courtesy of Michael Powers.

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