DC Fashion Week: H Street Festival

Photographs by Damion Miller.

Fashion shows aren’t generally accompanied by the smoky aroma of barbecue, and it’s unusual for the strident sounds of karaoke to compete with the pulsing music of the catwalk, but these quirks added to the eccentricity of a DC Fashion Week runway show last weekend at the H Street Festival. Local designers presented their ready-to-wear collections on an open-air catwalk between 12th and 14th streets, Northeast, and the audience mostly consisted of festival attendees rather than devoted fashion followers. The up-and-coming neighborhood, complete with a burlesque bar and a tater-tot-serving sushi restaurant, was an intriguing backdrop.

While other shows at DC Fashion Week had an international focus, the H Street event centered on the local scene. The collections were diverse, ranging from bathing suits to business suits to evening gowns, and many of the designers sell their clothes at Dekka boutique on U Street. The collection of Stella Bonds, a native of Colombia who primarily designs men’s sportswear, started the show. Male models walked stoically down the runway wearing collared, button-up shirts with eye-catching detail. Most of the shirts had a base of muted solids or stripes, while the cuffs, collars, and plackets were accented with exciting patterns and colors—a black shirt was tweaked with a tan-red-and-purple-dyed print, and a navy-blue striped shirt had royal-blue satin details.

Thembe’s show was a highlight. The collection featured interesting and creative clothes marked by asymmetry, intriguing slits and seams, deep V-necks, ruffles, and belts. Some of the ensembles had a slightly unrefined look, but it was executed with purpose and care and gave the clothes a funky, chic appeal.

Diallo was the next large collection to parade down the runway. It focused on tight-fitting women’s wear. The designer worked in black and white but used a primary palette of blue, yellow, and red to add color. The most fashion-forward designs made use of a suspender-like silhouette, with long straps that spanned the torso and connected to a skirt around the waistline rather than the neckline. The outfits that combined red and black included lace that gave off a Gothic vibe, and many of the designs were so low-cut that it seemed a nip slip would happen at any moment.

The other highlight of the H Street show was Corjor International. The collection began with bathing suits that drew approval from the crowd, although more for the bodies of the male models than for the outfits. The women’s bathing suits were accompanied by scarves, which transitioned nicely into the long, flowing dresses that would later come down the runway. The clothes were almost entirely blue with hints of brown, and the aesthetic was very decorative—ruffles, sequins, and peacock feathers adorned many of the dresses. A strapless dress in a cone shape made of ruffles was one of the most interesting and original designs of the whole show, and all of the dresses displayed a baroque appreciation for ornamentation.

At one point during the show, there was an awkward delay between designers, and the host responded by calling audience members onstage to strut their stuff. The volunteers were mostly teenage girls, although a few older men hopped on as well, in a display that would never occur at New York or Los Angeles fashion weeks. But the gesture emphasized the accessible, local, nonelitist nature of the DC fashion scene. Unlike the extravagant showmanship of runway shows in fashion centers, complete with seamless music, lighting, set design, and exclusive ticket access, the H Street show had a sense of community: Guests included friends of designers, audience members stopped by on their way to sing karaoke at Sticky Rice, and the clothes can be bought for reasonable prices at DC stores.

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