Moving Fashion Forward

As Baltimore Fashion Week Approaches, The City Has Designs On High Style

August 02, 2009|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,

After a 12-hour shift stitching up wounds for his job as an emergency medical technician, Jonathan Winkles relaxes by hand-sewing a rubber ducky, strings of miniature light bulbs and the occasional vial of fake blood onto the fantastic gowns he's creating for his fashion line, Kantankerous Couture.

Twenty of his designs will be on display at Baltimore Fashion Week this month. There will be a ballerina skirt made from transparent trash bags, a corset decorated with items that Winkles found on the streets (a half-used matchbox, cigarette butts, a black and white BELIEVE sticker) and wire face masks. Each outfit is more sumptuously detailed, more over-the-top than the next - and all were put together on the $90 sewing machine that Winkles bought from Wal-Mart.

"I have been greatly inspired by the brutality and personal struggles that people go through that I've seen on the job, but also by the art of this city," Winkles says. "That's why I themed my collection 'Nightmares and Daydreams.' "

FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption Sunday incorrectly stated where fashion designer Jonathan Winkles lives. Winkles grew up in Columbia and lives in Baltimore.
The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

In some ways, the 31-year-old from Columbia could serve as the embodiment of the local fashion industry. He's unknown, imaginative, and he ekes out astounding results from scanty resources. So does the city in which he lives.

The Big Apple always will be the hub of the U.S. fashion world. But the rest of the nation, including Baltimore, is increasingly reluctant to concede such a lucrative industry and the ensuing drain of talented young designers.

No longer are fashion weeks held only in New York and Paris. In the past five or six years, these events have sprung up everywhere, and not only in such glam spots as Aspen, Colo., and Palm Beach, Fla. Now, such decidedly unpretentious places as Cleveland, St. Louis, the Twin Cities - and yes, Baltimore - are staging their own annual shows.

"We do indeed have a fashion scene in Baltimore," says Susie Brandt, head of the fiber arts department at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

"The center of the world is not New York. You don't have to live on the Upper West Side to be talented. There a lot of people right here who are doing innovative work."

And some of their garments will be on display Aug. 10-14 at the War Memorial Building, when 41 local designers strut their stuff in Baltimore Fashion Week.

The designers will include not just Winkles, but Bishme Cromartie, a high school senior who is attracting attention from fashion industry insiders in Washington and New York, and Ann Boland, a junior at MICA who won $500 in a contest sponsored by McDonald's for concocting an outfit inspired by an espresso drink and consisting of a slim brown skirt topped by a white blouse with extravagant ruffles.

"I love fashion, and this needs to be done for Baltimore," says Sharan Nixon, a longtime model who, for the second year in a row, is organizing the five-day runway extravaganza. "The biggest obstacle has been getting corporations and various organizations to understand that we can do this. Yes, this is Baltimore; yes, we have talented designers; and yes, we know how to put on a professional show."

Each day of the week will be themed. Monday highlights ecology-friendly fashion; Tuesday focuses on ready-to-wear garments; Wednesday features Goth and punk fashion; Thursday showcases the avant-garde; and Friday displays haute couture.

Brandt, the MICA professor, thinks several factors are contributing to the decentralization of fashion in the 21st century.

Partly, she says, online shopping sites such as eBay have led to the globalization of the garment industry. Instead of traveling to New York's Fifth Avenue, shoppers can surf the Web from their homes and order a Hermes scarf from Sioux Falls or a Prada handbag from Peoria.

It's also, she says, a result of the popularity of the fashion reality show Project Runway, which returns for a sixth season Aug. 20. (Tellingly, for the first time, the series will not be based in New York. It will also air on Lifetime instead of Bravo.)

The designers showcased on the series hail from large cities and small towns from all over the U.S. Brandt thinks the show has directed consumers to the undiscovered talent in their own backyards - including Annapolis' Christian Siriano, who won Runway's fourth season. Just as people increasingly prefer to buy food that has been grown locally, she says, they're now more inclined to patronize local fashion houses.

"Baltimore is a terrific city for creative people to live in," Brandt says. "It's relatively inexpensive, and there's a great, cooperative community of artists here."

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon has championed the local fashion industry, lending city support to such ventures as Baltimore Fashion Week and the recent "Sew Me What You've Got" competition for aspiring fashion designers at Artscape.

Where designers go, she says, shops, boutiques and fabric stores tend to follow - enhancing not only the city's tax base but also its image nationwide.

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