Baltimore Fashion Week is a labor of love

Head of event wants to give local talent a chance to shine

August 14, 2010|By John-John Williams IV, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore Fashion Week is days away, and the pressure is building for the event's director, Sharan Nixon

Baltimore Fashion Week is days away, and the pressure is building for the event's director, Sharan Nixon.

The longtime model has finally found a contractor to build a New York-inspired elevated runway to her liking. But her heart still races each time she thinks about the $22,000 of her savings she has used to fund the event.

"I'm struggling between life expenses and fashion expenses," said Nixon, a 45-year-old Northwest Baltimore resident who launched Baltimore Fashion Week two years ago. "I will keep on doing it. I do it for the designers. Period. Not everybody can afford to get inside Bryant Park."

Baltimore Fashion Week is a labor of love for Nixon, who quit her administrative job at a nonprofit last year to focus her attention full-time on Butterfly Productions, her company that puts on the four-day event, which runs from Thursday to Sunday.

"Baltimore has a lot of great designers and models as well," said Nixon, who moved to Baltimore from Barstow, Calif., with her family at the age of 5. "I built Baltimore Fashion Week as a step to go forth in their career. I want them to get that exposure."

Providing a launch pad for designers and models has been a struggle at times for Nixon, who faced a hiccup in the form of a competing fashion week run by a group that decided to hold its event the same year. The "other fashion week" eventually folded.

Last fall, after concerns about parking and safety, Nixon decided to move the event from the War Memorial Building in Baltimore — its home for the first two years — to the Sheraton Baltimore North in Towson.

Despite the added benefits of the Sheraton, Baltimore Fashion Week is still a far way away from the storied Fashion Week held each spring and fall in New York City's Bryant Park, which is considered the crème de la crème of the slew of annual fashion weeks held worldwide. Nixon believes her event is advancing to that level.

"We are taking it more New York," said Nixon. "It's going to be a baby Bryant Park without the tent. One day — by 2012 — we'll have that tent. I promise you."

Nixon knows that some might frown at the thought of having a haute couture fashion show at the Sheraton in suburban Baltimore. Nixon was originally going to hold a model search there, but when she couldn't find a venue for fashion week, the hotel stepped in and accommodated the event.

"Don't let the smooth taste fool you," said Nixon, whose event will have a different theme for each day, including a tribute to Alexander McQueen and Valentino this coming Sunday. "The presentation is all of it. Never judge a book by its cover. We always step outside of the box at Butterfly Productions. It is never the norm."

This year's event, "Re-Inventing The Impossible: Fashion," will feature 32 designers and 125 models. Dixon was determined to make the clothes the focal point of each fashion show. Hence the elevated stage.

"The first four rows will have a good view of the garments," Nixon said in reference to the 2-foot-high, 60-foot-long runway. "The focus is mainly on the clothes. I don't want a lot of hoopla on the face of the models. The designers need to sell the clothes."

Reanna Jacobs, owner of DeBois Textiles Inc., a warehouse in Pigtown that specializes in vintage clothes, will show up to 30 pieces Thursday.

Jacobs knows that without Baltimore Fashion Week she probably would not have an opportunity to promote her clothes in such a way. Designers pay a $300 fee to participate in Baltimore Fashion Week, a small sum compared to the tens of thousands of dollars designers pay to participate in New York, according to Nixon.

"It gives me an opportunity to showcase what we have here at the store," said Jacobs, who joined the event for the first time last year.

Carl Trodgon, the head designer of the Baltimore-based Alek Risimnic Couture, will be closing the event on Sunday.

"It's an honor, and it is a lot of pressure," said Trodgon, who has been designing professionally for the past 14 years but had not participated in past Baltimore Fashion Weeks because of other commitments. "They called me and asked me to do the show. I promised that I wouldn't let them down."

Trodgon plans to feature up to 35 pieces that he calls ready-to-wear with a couture feel. His cocktail dresses run from $395 to $2,500. "[My clothes] have a ready-to-wear price," he said.

"Baltimore Fashion Week gives people that aren't in New York or who can't afford to be in New York the opportunity to present their lines," Trodgon said.

But will designers and models be able to strut their stuff within the city limits of Baltimore next year?

"I don't know," Nixon said. "We are looking for a location now. I worked as hard as I could to keep it in Baltimore. But no one helped me. I did what I had to do. I was not going to not have this event."

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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