Fashion forward: Knoxville Fashion Week still searching for an identity

A collection of leather bags made in Morocco were shown by Amazig Leathers. Photo Courtesy of Ashlyn Kittrell.
A collection of leather bags made in Morocco were shown by Amazig Leathers. Photo Courtesy of Ashlyn Kittrell.

In my last column, I discussed the difference between personal style and fashion. This was on the tail end of New York Fashion Week, an event I’m unlikely to attend any time soon. However, starting Wednesday, Feb. 26, I was able to get a glimpse into a more local fashion scene by attending Knoxville Fashion Week.

The event ran from last Wednesday night until Saturday, March 1. I attended three of the four events, choosing to take Friday night off. Before going any further with my review of the shows that I did attend, it is important to note that I was given a VIP ticket for free in exchange for coverage for the event on my personal blog, Triple Thread. That being said, I attended the events representing only myself. The opinions I have are my own and do not reflect that of The Highland Echo.

On the first night, I arrived at the event venue (G&G Interiors, a furniture gallery in Bearden) about 15 minutes past the start time of 5 p.m. The parking lot of Cherokee Plaza, where G&G Interiors is located, was already overflowing to the bank parking lot next door. There were cars in every legal and illegal parking spot as far as I could see, including the drive-through lanes at the bank.

With such a hectic traffic situation, I was ready to be wowed at the opening event. However, I found myself more drawn to the furniture and decor the store was selling than most of the fashions being shown by roaming hordes of models. The girls were walking in lines, presenting some of the collections from local boutiques and handing out discounts. While I enjoyed seeing the spring collection from the fashion line Clover Canyon on the models for the Knoxville boutique Kristi, after I snapped a few pictures of these girls, I was pretty much lacking for further things to cover. Perhaps my inability to schmooze or not being legal drinking age contributed to my cynicism, but overall I saw less fashion than I saw people just milling about, not quite sure what to do with themselves.

Thursday night, the accessories and emerging designers showcase, was bound to be more promising. My late arrival to this event was the right decision this time. Despite there being no seats left in the VIP area, I typically choose to view shows from the media pit so I can take my own pictures. The first show was being introduced as I descended the stairs in the Market Square venue, Latitude 35.

This was almost a full hour after the announced start time. However, my late arrival was due to my misunderstanding of the word showcase. I believed that the accessories showcase would not be a formal runway show but rather a drop-in-and-browse presentation, as you might see for high-end accessories brands in places like New York. Instead, both the accessories and clothing lines were presented on the runway.

While most of the accessory lines were in fact designed and handmade by the person listed, one of the lines appeared to be more of a selection from something you might see in a mall kiosk. This was the beginning of another source of confusion for me that would follow me the rest of the week. Many of the shows in Knoxville Fashion Week are actually just boutiques and stores showing off their inventory rather than actual designers presenting collections they made by hand. I certainly don’t mind seeing both, but I’d like there to be more transparency so that the general audience (who, I might add, seem to be largely parents of the models rather than people from the fashion industry in Knoxville) knows what they are looking at.

In my opinion, the standout designers from the accessory showcase were New Eve Jewelry and Amazig Leathers. New Eve Jewelry, a line made entirely from reclaimed materials by artist Megan Craig, had a cohesive look as well as a solid source of inspiration: Craig’s travels in Israel. The line featured pieces that you might expect to see in a more Eastern climate with materials such as glittering chains and agate stones.

Amazig Leathers presented their line of leather goods, from handbags to duffle bags. I was impressed with the design and craftsmanship of the bags, even from a distance. However, it wasn’t until after I looked up the story behind the company that I was blown away. According the website, Amazig was founded after owner Brandi Jones began doing research into the production of the things she was consuming and found them to be lacking ethically. Amazig has a partnership with a community in Morocco that produces their bags.

Absetic, the lead artisan for Amazig, and other artisans are able to provide for their families and their community through production of leather goods. The fact that I found out about a socially conscious company based in Knoxville made the entirety of fashion week worth my time.

The emerging designers showcase that same night proved to have only two of what I would call legitimate designers. While Southern Grace and Southern Orange boutiques (separate entities) both had a few charming options, it was clear that they were not designed and produced in Knoxville. Rather, the collections were a selection from the boutique inventory and were more curations than actual designer collections.

Out of the two designer collections that were presented, Sophie Tess Designs stood out with her collection titled “Cinco Vegas.” Her menswear collection was inspired by “the luxury of relaxing after a long day, having a drink and a Cinco Vegas cigar,” according the designer’s Facebook page. Although the collection was menswear, I found these pieces to be the most wearable clothing selection of the night. The items ranged from striped blazers to mixed-pattern button-down shirts, both of which I could not only envision a fashionable guy wearing, but myself as well.

Although I didn’t attend the made in America, swimwear or menswear events of Friday evening, there was plenty of buzz surrounding the grand finale event of Saturday to sustain me. I figured the grandeur of Saturday would make up for the missed show Friday; but, as with the other events of the week, I should have left any preconceived notions at the door.

Saturday night started with the lobby to the ballroom where the event was being held being crowded to the point beyond safety. While the doors did open at 7:15 or so, the schedule said the doors would open at 7 p.m. so, gosh-darn-it, Knoxvillians got there before 7 p.m.

After the event opened (late) with a show presenting a selection from the boutique Kristi, the night slowly got stranger. The outfits from Kristi were top-notch, showing edgier, high-fashion items than any of the previously mentioned boutiques. However, I had seen a good portion of the collection at the kick-off event.

This doesn’t stop me from reiterating that Kristi was by far the most wearable and aesthetically pleasing show of the night.

While the rest of the shows presented things that were handmade, they were mostly a source of head-scratching for show attendees. I appreciate the artistry that goes into the more avant-garde looks, but I’m just not sure that this type of show is what Knoxville needs (or understands, for that matter). At one point during the last show, which presented chain-mail and leather creations inspired by the chakras, a fellow photographer turned to me and asked, “What is this?” All I could do was shake my head slowly. I still have no idea.

Despite any criticism I may have about the events, I do it all out of love for the city of Knoxville. There are remarkable artists and ideas that come together in this oddball town, but I don’t necessarily see that reflected during Knoxville Fashion Week. I think that in its formative years, the event is still searching for an identity. Is it a showcase for the models of Gage Talent, the agency that created KFW? A time to reach out to other Southern cities and bring exciting new talent into Knoxville? Or is it truly a space for Knoxville to come out and show that we have actual, wearable designers creating right here? I might have felt grumpy enough to be both Statler and Waldorf (the old men critics in “The Muppet Show”) by the end of the week, but I’m still looking forward to finding out.

2 thoughts on “Fashion forward: Knoxville Fashion Week still searching for an identity

  • March 7, 2014 at 5:53 pm
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    “But overall I saw less fashion Than I saw people just milling about, not quite sure what to do with themselves.” I have been to many events like that. 🙂

    Reply
  • March 7, 2017 at 2:33 am
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    KFW is just an event created by Gage Talent. It’s purpose is to make money for Gage and to give their models a “job” so the models think they are working and getting exposure. Sad if Knoxville feels it is represented in this manner.

    Reply

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